Blow Monkeys

Blow Monkeys

Club Run, Saturday 9th February, 2019

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:87 km / 54 miles with 1,515m climbing
Riding Time:3 hours 58 minutes
Average Speed:21.8 km/h
Group Size:10
Temperature: 10°C
Weather in a word or two:

Ride Profile

Here we go then, surfing on the ragged coattails of Storm Erik, with the promise of high winds, gusts of up to 60mph and frequent rain. Tally ho!

The conditions have already caused the Hammer and Aether to peek cautiously out from behind their bedroom curtains and declare it’s a “Too Wild to Ride” kind of day. Unfortunate, as the Hammer had planned the route and volunteered to lead.

Still, as I’m buffeted and bashed on the drop off the Heinous Hill, I’m certain that someone with at least half a clue and a workable plan will turn up – in fact I already have a fairly good idea of which of the Usual Suspects will be out and ready to laugh (quite literally) in the face of Storm Erik.

Having been snowbound last week, I feel I particularly need the ride, despite the less than ideal conditions and a streaming cold. I wasn’t feeling too bad, but one nostril was painfully plugged and felt tighter than the sphincter on a deep-diving platypus. Meanwhile, the other was the gift that kept giving and streamed like a cataract.

I took the closer river crossing over a prolonged battle with the elements and soon started to climb out of the valley. I was gently impelled upwards by the wind at my back and made decent time.

This wind must have been blowing in just the right direction and with just the right force to set all the lampposts along Silver Lonnen to a rhythmic, but raucous metallic clanging. I’ve never heard anything quite like it (well, outside the industrial percussion Tom Waits used on Swordfishtrombones) and wondered how the residents had managed to sleep through this startled, constant alarm call.

I had the wind at my back again for the final run-in, slightly downhill on a straight and fast road, where I could freewheel and still watch my speed slowly build: 26 … 27 … 28 … 29 mph.

As I turned on the final approach to the bus station sorry, Transport Interchange Centre, the wind gave me one final shove, like the brakeman on a bobsled team. I whipped around the corner, bumped over the kerb and had to brake sharply before hitting the wall. I’d arrived a whole 10 minutes early.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Buoyed by the invincibility of youth, the Garrulous Kid was out, having survived the previous week when everyone had switched to a mountainbike in the snow, but he’d stuck resolutely to his road bike. I didn’t know whether to commend his bravery or condemn his madness.

It wasn’t long before the Usual Suspects started to show, G-Dawg and the Colossus, Taffy Steve, Crazy Legs, Goose and Caracol.

We were joined by Archie Miades, one of the Monkey Butler Boy’s mini-me’s, who seems to quite enjoy riding with the auld codgers and probably lowered our average age by at least 5 years.

OGL drove up while we were chatting about possible routes, apparently on his way to the gym, having also determined it was Too Wild to Ride. “There are trees down everywhere,” he declared ominously.

Taffy Steve, having already ridden an hour in from the coast, immediately suggested these dire warnings were pure hyperbole and could be safely filed away with other assorted and periodic scare-mongering, such as “glaciers are starting to form in Rothbury” and the Broadway is a car vs. cyclist war zone and utterly deadly.

Still, at least OGL’s arrival entertained Crazy Legs who was delighted by the baggy, bright red, track suit bottoms he was wearing. If the branding is to be believed, these were official team issue to Canadian canoeists for the 2012 Olympic Games.

They were in fact, so red, that I’m not sure that even the admirably eccentric Prof would have allowed them into his wardrobe, despite his penchant for sporting his famous “Nantucket Red” trews on the occasions when he wants to look “preppy” and/or edgy.

Unsightly as they were, at least OGL’s pants gave Crazy Legs one of the trickier trivia questions of the day,

“Name a famous Canadian Olympian …”

“Well, that’s easy …”

Other than Ben Johnston?

“Oh … err … hmm.”

(We couldn’t – well, other than Ben Johnston, although perhaps boxer Lennox Lewis may have won me the point as I had an inkling he’d competed for Canada before being adopted as a “true-Brit”).

We all turned to watch the halting approach of infrequent, irregular, Double Dec, perhaps the tallest rider in the club and ideal for sheltering behind on a windy day.

“We should ask him to carry a door,” G-Dawg suggested, not unreasonably, I thought.

“Then we could all ride behind him in a V-shaped formation, like geese,” the Colossus reasoned, envisaging a spearhead, with Double Dec and his door on the front of a gradually broadening formation, culminating in 8 riders abreast at the back.

We failed to suppress a small, involuntarily cheer as Double Dec drew to a halt in front of us.

“I know what you’re all thinking,” he declared flatly, “Put the big feller on the front and hide behind him all day.”

We all immediately denied we would ever, ever consider such an unfair imposition. I mean, as if …


Off we went, ten brave souls led out by G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid. Things weren’t too bad as long as there was a bit of shelter – houses, hedges, or trees, but when we hit the wide-open stretch of road past the Sage HQ we found out just how strong the wind was.

Looking for a slightly easier route, Crazy Legs detached and tried the cycle path. His manoeuvre left me slightly adrift from the group and it took a hell of an effort just to close the gap, head-down and toiling away into the wind.

Meanwhile, on the front, G-Dawg was grinding his massive fixed gear with ponderous slowness, forced out of the saddle and contorting his entire body to keep the wheels turning. I was convinced today was going to be the day when we finally broke him.

Double Dec had already been distanced. If he was a good windbreak to ride behind, it was also true that he represented a massive surface area for the wind to buffet and probably generated more drag than the rest of us combined. He would struggle for the rest of the day.

A still lung-shot Crazy Legs had dropped off the back and was also determined to ride at his own pace, but every time we stopped to wait for Double Dec, Crazy Legs would invariably appear first.

At one such stop, I managed to tell him that I’d been working through our postgraduate course database when a colleague noticed a course with no name.

“What’s that, you say?” I had asked, “A course with no name?”

I left the conversation dangling as we pressed on, but was fairly confident the trap had been masterfully baited and was about to be sprung …



The ride continued in this stop-start way, Crazy Legs would drift off the back content in his own company and travelling at his own pace. Then we’d hit a climb, Double Dec would be jettisoned and, when we pulled over to wait for him, Crazy Legs would invariably appear before our errant windbreak.

At one point G-Dawg and the Colossus dropped back to provide escort duties for Double Dec, as we hit a particularly wild, windy and horribly exposed bit of road and progress slowed to a crawl.

At the crossroads below Meldon, Taffy Steve indicated he was turning left and heading straight on to the cafe, while the rest were heading up through Dyke Neuk, then on to the wind-blasted moorland around Angerton.

I indicated I was going with Taffy Steve, while Caracol hemmed and hawed, between the longer and shorter routes. In his mind he was already at home
curled up on the sofa and ready for an all-day wallow in the rugby.

“Wearing a onesie and wrapped in a slanket,” the Colossus imagined.

“Both feet in a Big Slipper,” I added.

“Sipping a Cup-A-Soup,” the Colossus concluded.

Oddly Caracol didn’t argue, other than to suggest he’d probably still be in his cycling kit, so the onesie was a bit of an exaggeration.

Naturally Crazy Legs arrived before Double Dec.

“I’m please you’re here,” he said to me, “Otherwise I would have asked someone to pass a message forward.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. You’re a complete and utter bastard!” he announced.

From this I understood I had successfully inflicted an irritating earworm on Crazy Legs and he’d been assailed by the America’s (the group, not the country) finest musical opus, as he’d toiled along – alone and behind, where there ain’t no one for to give you no pain. La-la-la – lalalala – la-la-la – la-la …

While the rest pushed on for Dyke Neuk, I went with Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs , collecting Double Dec and climbing the always surprisingly sharp, hill to Meldon on a more direct heading to the cafe.

Even slight rises were enough to cast out Double Dec now and I spent much of the time looking back and judging how big a gap he needed to make up as we slowed to wait.

As we reached the bottom of the drop down to Bolam Lake, I looked back again and found the road completely empty. I hung back while Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs pushed on and was just about to start climbing back up the hill, when Double Dec finally reappeared.

I checked how he was doing and made sure he didn’t have any mechanical issues. All was fine, but he was struggling in the wind and had decided to head straight home, foregoing the pleasure of coffee and cake for the opportunity to travel at his own pace.

I left him and caught up with Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs. We pressed on with a token increase in pace as we closed on the cafe. Crazy Legs accelerated into the rollers and I tracked him across the first three crests, before poking my nose into the wind and leading our splinter group up to the cafe.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We hadn’t been sat there long, when the rest of our group were blown in. The Garrulous Kid was heard loudly declaring he weighed more than 80 kilos now, as a result of all of his work in the gym. The Colossus queried if this was remotely possible.

“You have to take into account his giant head, which is filled with material that’s much denser than normal,” I argued.

“Perhaps that explains why he keeps falling over?” Crazy Legs pondered. “I wonder where his centre of balance is?”

Crazy Legs then spent a few moments trying to identify his own centre of balance, before boldly declaring that Henley-in-Arden is the centre of balance for the whole of the British Isles:

“If you put a giant pin through Henley-in-Arden and give the country a quick spin, it will more freely rotate around this point than any other,” he asserted with such conviction that I didn’t dare doubt him.

We discussed some well worn cycling tropes, such as the relationship between drivers and cyclists and the tensions created by awful, often dangerous cycle lanes we, fairly unanimously spurn, to the ire of our motorised brethren.

Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs then compared notes on gesticulating angrily to motorists while wearing lobster-claw mitts. They concluded that the gloves were impressively warm, but their major drawback was they severely restricted the range of your digital eloquence and emasculated the vehemence of your gestures.

In fact, their rather cute, comical design made you look like an agitated rock-hopper penguin having a temper tantrum, while waving them at motorists was akin to threatening someone with a cheery glove puppet.

Talk turned to cult sporting heroes, especially those who had a brilliant career, prematurely cut short by injury. But perhaps it’s better to burn out, than to fade away, as a smart Canadian feller once proclaimed. My, my, hey, hey. (He wasn’t, to the best of my knowledge an Olympian).

As we were thinking about heading home, the Garrulous Kid sidled up to accidentally let slip he’d beaten the Colossus in the cafe sprint. We weren’t there and with no corroborating witnesses, we naturally treated such claims as utterly spurious, fake news.

Then the Garrulous Kid queried where Double Dec was.

“Probably around about Ogle, by now” G-Dawg suggested dryly, glancing at his watch and name-checking the next village a couple of hundred yards down the road.

I explained that Double Dec had been struggling, so hadn’t stopped at the cafe and ridden straight for home. The Garrulous Kid was disappointed, as talking to him was “really interesting.” According to the Garrulous Kid, our missing comrade has at least two claims to fame, having once placed last in a Very Tall Man competition and (allegedly) possessing an uncountable harem of wives. 


I hung at the back, well out of the wind all the way home, before letting Caracol, G-Dawg and the Colossus slip away on the last section of the Mad Mile.

I was then on my own, up the long drag past the golf course, with a cross headwind, strong enough to both impede forward progress and occasionally slap me sideways, so I lurched across the road.

Head down, I didn’t see much of anything as I toiled away, occasionally looking up just to get my bearings and avoid ploughing into any parked cars. I must admit I was always pleasantly surprised by the progress I was making each time I raise my eyes from the road ahead.

In this way I made it to the foot of the Heinous Hill and then, with one last effort, home.


YTD Totals: 840 km / 522 miles with 11,720 metres of climbing.

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Mildly Tyre Sum

Mildly Tyre Sum

Club Run 26th January, 2019

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance: 100 km/62 miles & 1,006m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 8 minutes
Average Speed:24.1 km/h
Group Size:30 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature: 10°C
Weather in a word or two:Disturbingly mild

Ride Profile

The weather continues to confound, swinging from a frigid -4°C on Wednesday’s early morning commute, to disturbingly mild, double-figures for the weekend.

With no ice to worry about and the morning’s starting to get lighter too, the big concern first thing Saturday was perfecting the balancing act and getting the layering just right – we were looking for the Goldilocks ideal – not too hot and not too cold.

So, a single base layer, Galibier jacket (in case the threatened rain or sleet materialised early than forecast), thin gloves with liners, no buff, no hat or headband. It was a reasonably, solid effort, a self-scoring 7, or an 8 out of 10 and I only feeling chilly the few times we were forced to stopped.

The roads were strangely quiet of fellow cyclists as I made my way across to the meeting place, but it seemed to be a day for solitary runners, who were out in force, in all sizes, shapes and styles.

There were so many, I wondered if there was an upcoming event they were all training for, or perhaps we now had a National Running Day to go along with National Hugging Day, National Pie Eating Day, National Rubik’s Cube Day, or whatever new nonsense they’ve come up with. (Apparently National Running Day does actually exist, but it’s in June.)

On the final approach to the meeting point I was caught behind a vaping driver, billowing plumes of sickly, sweet-smelling smoke out of his car window. It took me a while, but I finally recognised that he seemed to be indulging in a blackcurrant vape, possibly Ribena, or perhaps Vimto? A new one to add to Taffy Steve’s list of improbable and nauseating vape flavours.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:

G-Dawg pointed to the cheap, emergency, strap-on LED light on my handlebars and recounted how he’d attached one to his dog, after its purpose built LED collar failed. He said it worked as a great substitute, until the dog went plunging headlong into the river, at which point he mentally wrote it off.

He was then hugely surprised when the dog had emerged, with the light still blinking away furiously. At this point he decided that for a cheap light, he’d found something that was surprisingly sturdy, waterproof and wholly reliable … until he tried to turn it off to save the batteries for another day and found he couldn’t.

I imagined the disgruntled dog sitting at home, still blinking away like a stray satellite and unable to sleep for the disturbing bursts of light searing through its eyelids every time it tried.

Crazy Legs revealed he’d finished last weeks ride, taken off his gilet and hung it over the handlebars of his bike in the garage. It had still been there waiting for him this morning, but he’d only managed to half pull it on before its rank stink had dissuaded him and he’d been forced to consign it directly to the washing basket.

OGL commented on someone suggesting that he could wear a base layer ten times in a row between washes – or was it ten years in a row? Anyway, this is entirely possible because it was made with miraculous non-stink, Merino wool. I think it’s probably fine – but only if you can pedal fast enough to outpace your own odour …

Still, G-Dawg thought you could get at least 4 “good” wears out of a pair of Y-fronts, worn normally, back to front and then repeating the process but inside out. He was joking. (Right?) The disturbing level of detail he added, such as saving the right side out and the right way around “for best” did make me wonder …

OGL then mentioned some all-day British Cycling, regional meeting in February and wondered if anyone wanted to accompany him to represent the club, a sort of sharing of the pain. He didn’t seem to find any irony in the fact that nobody else has any kind of official status in the club (other than being a paid-up, or even non-paying member.)

In other news, he suggested that the city’s £11 million development plan for two sporting hubs could see a cycling track and possibly clubhouse, built at the Bullocksteads site near the rugby stadium. This, he offered, could be a better meeting point for club rides. This vision was enthusiastically embraced by G-Dawg who lives right on the doorstep of the proposed development. I’ve no doubt he could see his future-self rolling out of bed at 8:55 and still being the first one to arrive at the meeting point.

Taffy Steve nodded over to where Princess Fiona and Mini Miss had gathered and were chatting away.

“The red car and the blue car had a race…” he intoned, drawing attention to the fact that they were dressed almost identically, except one was wearing a red jacket and the other a blue one.

“Do you remember that Milky Way advert?” he asked, “I hated it.”

I wondered what it was provoked such hatred, could it have been the art style and direction? The patent absurdity of it’s storyboard? The jaunty, jangling soundtrack? The ear-worm effectiveness of its jingle? Perhaps it was the product itself, the rather effete, light-weight Milky Way that made him curl his lip in disdain?

“It’s the lyric’s he explained, starting to sing away, “The red car and the blue car had a race, but all Red wants to do is stuff his face, he eats everything he see’s, from trucks to prickly trees, but smart old Blue he took the Milky Way.” He paused, but not for long …

“So, what’s wrong with that? Prickly trees? Prickly trees! Pah! They obviously meant cactuses, but were too lazy to find anything that would rhyme with cactuses, cacti or whatever. Even as a kid I knew it was just a lazy cop-out. Grrr!”

It’s amazing what superficial ephemera we carry from our yoof and how much it can still trouble and annoy us …

Our route architect for the day, Crazy Legs asked if anyone was interested in the full details of his grand plan. Apparently not, so without further ado, he invited G-Dawg to lead out those who wanted a faster ride, adding that there’d be no waiting to regroup.

The first group started to coalesce around G-Dawg, with the majority of riders joining. I hung back to try and even out the numbers, but it was still a two-thirds to one-third split – apparently no one wants any kind of association with a “slow” group.

Crazy Legs did have a little rueful chuckle to himself, as the (always game) Goose bumped his steel behemoth down off the kerb and went to join the fast group.

We agreed he’d be fine, he likes a challenge and the route wasn’t too hilly.


The second group followed, but we hadn’t gone more than a couple of hundred yards before the Red Max’s front tyre gave out with a sound like a sputtering Catherine Wheel – fzzzzit-fzzzzit-fzzzzit-fzzzzit.

We all pulled to a stop and clustered around and I moved up in unison with Crazy Legs to see how we could help.

“Don’t worry,” he declared, “We’ll soon have it fixed, the Dream Team’s here!” as he referred to the time we’d fruitlessly spent half an hour struggling with Big Dunc’s unholy alliance of Continental Grand Prix tyres and Shimano rims (Trial of Tyre’s.)

We’d failed in that instance, only to later learn that Big Dunc had saved himself through the simple expedience of flipping the wheel around and inserting the inner tube into the other side. Why that made a difference, I really don’t know, but it obviously did and it might be worth trying if you’re ever stuck with seriously recalcitrant tyres.

Despite the close attention and best ministrations of the Dream Team, the tyre change went pretty smoothly and we were soon back on the road again.

I was on the front with the Ticker, (Ticker-less, now he’s on his winter bike) and we spent much of the time calling back, trying to determine what the route was – I really should have paid attention, or at least encouraged Crazy Legs to give us an actual and foolproof briefing.

Occasional incoherent shouting punctured our ride, apparently caused by a RIM in a Volvo taking exception to our right of way, but I was well insulated from any altercations as we plugged away on the front, up through High Callerton and toward Medburn.



Here, we were drawn to a halt when the Red Max’s tyre gave out again. While he cursed his shoddy and useless Continental summer tyres, that seemed shot after “a mere 5,000 miles” of extraordinary wear and tear, I double-checked the rim and carcass for offending objects – glass, thorns, shards of metal, flints, rough edges, caltrops, thumb tacks, whatever. There was nothing.

Meanwhile, the Red Max realised he’d used a Vittoria inner tube, so he had a little rant about “Italian crap” while he was on. Even as a proud Vittorian I wasn’t going to stand in front of that particular runaway express.

“Badd-bing-badda-fzzzzit,” Taffy Steve added helpfully.

Meanwhile, Crazy Legs took the flaccid, holed tube off the Red Max, ostensibly to locate where the puncture was, but really just to hold it up to his nose and inhale deeply.

“Ah, I love the smell of rubber,” he declared, evidently quite content with the world. Apparently it smelled considerably better than his gilet.

There then followed a very deep, lengthy and philosophical discussion about how inner tubes can smell so good, when the air inside them is so rank.

“Like stale kippers,” I suggested and nobody disagreed.

We got going again and pressed on to the crossroads at Heugh, where a bronchitis-suffering OGL made a bee-line for the cafe. The Red Max decided to cut his ride short too, hoping to lessen the chances for further punctures and departed to provide escort duties.

Somewhere along the way I found myself directly behind Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs as they rode along, for some reason arguing about similarities between OGL and, somewhat randomly, football manager Neil Warnock.

Things turned a shade darker when Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe and Saddam Hussein were somehow added to the equation Still, the only conclusion they could agree on was that, if Idi Amin was a club member, they were pretty sure he hadn’t paid his subs in a good long while. Bizarre.

Having been delayed by recurrent punctures, we took a slight short cut toward the Quarry and, as the road started to climb, I nudged onto the front alongside Crazy Legs.

As we pulled the group along I complained about how I seemed to have become a dirt magnet for the day, liberally spotted and besplattered with mud from head to toe. My boots had turned a deeply unpleasant shade of brown and I was peering out at the world through seriously spotted glasses.

It was bad enough to start me singing “Teenage Dirtbag” – a selection that was at least tolerated by Crazy Legs as a “not-too-bad” earworm.

“Left, or right?” Crazy Legs pondered as we dragged the group toward the top of the Quarry.

“Left,” I declared, “We haven’t been that way for a long time.” So long in fact that I’d forgotten bits of the road had actually been patched and was (in places) almost decent.

So, left we went, slowing to allow everyone to regroup after the climb. As we rolled on, Crazy Legs bent right over to point, his finger hovering scant inches from the road surface as he bellowed out a lung-shredding “POT!” – a warning that was probably heard in the Scottish Borders.

“Sometimes, I really think I need to become a little more mature,” Crazy Legs considered.

“No, don’t go changin’ – we love you just the way you are.” I assured him.

He rode on in silence for a good dozen or so pedal strokes while he digested this …

“You bastard! You utter, utter bastard!” he complained, “First you give me Wheatus and then snatch it away for … for bloody Billy Joel!”

“Oh, is that a Billy Joel song?” I enquired innocently.

He then swore me to silence as he had a huge confession to make, needed advice, but demanded the ultimate in discretion. (This blerg doesn’t count, as no one reads it.) He looked around cautiously to make sure no one could eavesdrop. The group was still reforming behind us after the climb and we had a brief exclusion zone.

“I’ve been thinking about my set-up for the mountains and … Well… I don’t think I can get what I want with Campag.”

I was deeply shocked, almost speechless, as he hurriedly and in hushed tones, talked about Shimano, or even SRAM groupset options. Oh and the sky is falling down and meanwhile, in deepest, darkest hell, the thermostat’s been nudged up just a little …

Further discrete discussions around this bombshell were abandoned as we started a slow burn for the cafe, gradually picking up the pace.

“Do you want to go for this sprint?” Crazy legs wondered.

“Nah, I’m happy to just roll through.”

We built up the speed until all the talking behind stopped and we were lined out, clipping along, bouncing and juddering across the rough road surface.

I nodded up ahead where the road rose, before starting to drop down toward the Snake Bends.

“Take it to the top and then unleash the hounds?” I suggested.

So we did, peeling off neatly to either side and ushering the rest through for the final charge.

Cowin’ Bovril was the first to try his hand, surging off the front as we drifted toward the back.

He briefly had a good gap, but was slowly reeled in. Then, just before the road started to level, Taffy Steve attacked from the back, an astute masterclass in timing.

The gap quickly yawned upon, Cowin’ Bovril was washed away and only Carlton seemed able to give chase. I nudged onto his wheel and followed, but the move proved decisive. Carlton closed, but couldn’t come to terms with a flying Taffy Steve.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:

In the cafe, Carlton apologised for our slightly ramshackle and disorganised riding at the start of our grand adventure, but explained that, when you’re on the front with your nose in the wind, it’s really difficult to hear what’s being shouted up from behind.

We agreed we needed a better system and Crazy Legs’ idea of passing messages forward always seemed to stall half way up the line.

“Perhaps we need a dog whistle?” Crazy Legs pondered.

Visions of One Man and His Dog sprang to mind. Cum ba Shep, cum ba. No, don’t think that’s going to work.

Changing tack, Carlton wondered what was going on with the weather. “It’s at least three degrees warmer today,” he remarked.

“Did you say three degrees?” I queried.

We paused…

I looked at Crazy Legs, Crazy Legs looked at me and we both shook our heads. Luckily, neither of us could remember any Three Degrees songs. A narrow escape.

We reminisced about our old representative from the Hollow Lands,
De Uitheems Bloem, who we have traded in for a younger, newer model in Rainman. (It’s my understanding that Dutch riders are held in in such high regard, that UCI rules limit them to one per club. As such I can’t recall if our two ever actually rode together, but I do know we weren’t allowed to keep both.)

Crazy Legs remembered planning a winter break to Amsterdam and asking
De Uitheems Bloem for some recommendations. He later received a 5-page email, detailing a full itinerary of all the things to see and do on his trip. This was appended with a long range weather forecast for the weekend; sunrise and sunset times, temperature, wind speed and direction, chance of precipitation, air pressure, cloud cover and pollen count. It concluded that it looked like being a particularly mild weekend, “so don’t bother taking your skates.”

On returning, Crazy Legs had sought out De Uitheems Bloem, “Thanks for all the recommendations, that was brilliant. By the way, English people don’t own skates.”

“They don’t?”

We shared tales of riding in the Alps with Carlton, who seemed surprised that the Col de la Croix de Fer was Crazy Legs’ favourite climb. He couldn’t recall seeing the (admittedly modest) iron cross, perhaps because his overriding memory of the climb was being paced up it by a wild horse. This beast, rather worryingly, refused to leave the road and didn’t seem all that bothered by the gaggle of cyclists lined out behind it.

“It was obviously a draught horse,” I offered. I thought it was funny, Crazy Legs was simply dismayed. Secretly, I just think he was upset because the only wildlife we saw on the climb was a sun-blasted, completely flattened, giant toad-in-the-road. (The Circle of Death).

Talk of climbing mountains led Carlton to talk about Jimmy Mac’s 900 gram, special climbing wheelset. First, Crazy Legs thanked Carlton profusely for introducing the subject of wheels into the conversation, something he felt we hadn’t discussed for … oh, at least 3 or 4 weeks. Then things got serious as we fired off a range of questions to try and frame the fearful symmetry of Jimmy Mac’s climbing wheelset …

“What type of spokes, how many and how are they laced?” Crazy Legs demanded.

“When you say 900 grams, is that with, or without rim tape?” I pondered.

“Quick release skewers?” Crazy Legs added.

“The cassette?”

“The freehub?”

A rather overwhelmed Carlton could provide none of the answers and was now probably regretting mentioning wheels in the first place.

Now Crazy Legs wanted Jimmy Mac to ride out on his fabled wheels and then strip them down completely, so he could fully weigh them and see if their claimed mass could be independently verified.

Luckily, Carlton spotted Jimmy Mac entering the cafe at just that moment and was able to deflect Crazy Legs onto the actual wheel owner. Crazy Legs immediately got up to pursue the issue, before coming back and reporting it was a dead-end, as Jimmy Mac had trashed the wheels during his International Grand Fondo horror smash.

I thought this would deflate Crazy Legs somewhat, but it actually cheered him up. He now felt fully vindicated in his view that such wheels aren’t robust enough to stand up to the wear and tear of actually riding on them.


All good things come to an end and were soon lining up to head for home. Here I noticed the Monkey Butler Boy visibly shivering.

“Feeling the cold?” I asked him, proving yet again just how startlingly perceptive I am.

“Yes,” he replied tightly, “And it’s all his fault” he pointed at the Red Max.

“But that’s unfair, surely your dad didn’t tell you what to wear this morning?”

“No, but I inherited a stupid gene from him.”

Ha!

As we set off I found myself chatting to the Red Max as we trailed the Monkey Butler Boy. He despaired at his progeny’s lack of common sense and choice of attire, short sleeve jersey and arm warmers, shorts and knee warmers, already despoiled white socks and once pristine (now poisonous ivory) shoes. Looking at Max bundled up in a winter jacket, gloves, boots, and hat, I determined that genetics isn’t always the answer.

I also noticed that of the four teens out today, at least three of them were riding bikes without mudguards, whereas just about all the older set had at least some semblance of protection for themselves, their bikes and most importantly, their fellow riders.

I wondered if that says something about generational differences – perhaps the youngsters are more concerned with style, or maybe they’re more willing to put up with discomfort? More daring? More stoical? Harder? Less cossetted?

Then again, perhaps I’m over-thinking it and they are what they seem to be when I’m at my grumpiest – at best thoughtless, or just plain inconsiderate.

The Red Max told me he’d taken the Monkey Butler Boy along to see a professional coach, who told all the youngsters that they were training too hard and in the wrong way. He’d described the ideal training programme as a pyramid, a base of solid, core, low intensity miles, capped with fewer, high intensity efforts only once this base had been established.

The concept resonated with the Red Max:

“That was interesting wasn’t it?” he’d asked.

“Yes, it was good.”

Something to think about?”

“Nah, it obviously doesn’t apply to me.”

A “3-2-1-Go” countdown signalled an impromptu sprint up the final few metres to the crest of Berwick Hill, fiercely contested by G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid.

What can I say, the Garrulous Kid, in the full prime of youth and with all the advantages of modern technology, astride his ultra-light, uber-Teutonic, precision engineered, carbon Focus, was up against the grizzled veteran, three times his age and hauling an all steel fixie. It seemed a very unequal contest …

And so it proved. The Garrulous Kid was chewed up, worked over and unceremoniously spat out the back. Score one for the wrinklies.

I slotted in alongside Jimmy Mac as we started down the other side of Berwick Hill, where we were passed by a lone Derwent C.C. cyclist, all elbows and a busy style.

“He’s a bit far from home. I wonder what he’s doing on the boring roads over here, when he has the choice of all those good hilly routes south of the river?” Jimmy Mac mused.

This prompted a discussion about possible rides and the challenging terrain “over there” in the south of the Tyne badlands, (or Mordor, as my clubmates will refer to it.)

We hit the climb up to Dinnington and, in just a few metres, the gap between us and the Derwent C.C. rider almost entirely evaporated.

“Ah,” I suggested, “He doesn’t like hills.”

“Which is why he’s riding over here!” we both decided in unison.

As we entered the Mad Mile, I was completely and wholly unsurprised when a sudden headwind seemed to rise up out of nowhere. I’m getting used to this now.

I sheltered behind Caracol and G-Dawg for as long as I could, then I was on my own and plugging my way home. I got back suitably tired – I might not have been running with the “fast group” but I felt I’d had a good workout nonetheless.


YTD Totals: 648 km / 403 miles with 8,825 metres of climbing.

Of Ice and Men

Of Ice and Men

Club Run 19th January, 2019

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance: 103 km/64 miles & 1,006m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 18 minutes
Average Speed:24.0 km/h
Group Size:19
Temperature:4°C
Weather in a word or two:Bitter
Ride Profile

Brace yourself, here comes the real winter…

The weather turned much colder, mid-week starting on Wednesday, when I only just managed to make it into work before we were hit with the first snow flurries of 2019.

On Thursday and Friday temperatures plunged further and ice bloomed in oddly random patches, encouraging me to swap the road bike for a mountain bike. This hopefully doubles-up on the amount of rubber in contact with the road surface at any one time. It still wasn’t enough to give me the confidence to ride down one totally ice-sheeted lane I found on my commuting route.

In fact things were looking so bad on Friday that, conscientious fellow that he is, G-Dawg reconnoitred our entire planned route for Saturday and worked out a comprehensive Plan B, based on by-passing those roads he felt were way too sketchy – and there were plenty of those. I should probably clarify that he drove the intended route, he didn’t cycle – I said he was conscientious, not stark staring mad.

So Saturday was cold from the early hours and unlikely to get much warmer as the day progressed. I doubled up on base layers, slapped a rain jacket over my winter jacket and rolled out.

The descent of the hill was great for identifying the weak spots and any chinks in my cold weather armour – the minuscule gap between glove and jacket cuff, everything above the protective buff wrapped around my lower face and the area where the double protection between socks and bibtights petered out.

3°C the flashing LED’s on the factory unit told me, plus (or, is that minus?) the wind chill, the icing on the cake, or maybe the icing on the poor rider in this instance.

Once again though, others perhaps had it worse, as the rowers were already gathering on the river bank as I passed, preparing for the Tyne New Years Head race, 4.5km upstream from Scotswood to Newburn in bitterly cold conditions.

A brief interlude at the traffic lights before the bridge brought me a buzzing from the overhead wires, overlaid with the clomp of many welly-booted feet, as the rowers prepared all their gear. All this was interspaced with the bright, chirruping chatter of a solitary early bird. I’ve no idea why he was so happy, perhaps it was a triumphal anthem as he’d got the worm?

Over the river and climbing out the other side of the valley, I finally began to warm up a little, but I never did feel the need to shed the rain jacket, then or at any subsequent point during the ride.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:

On arriving, I found G-Dawg, Taffy Steve and the Colossus sitting on the wall, no doubt being entertained by the Garrulous Kid, who had his hands thrust obscenely down the front of his tights to keep them warm.

G-Dawg shuffled uncomfortably on the wall. “My backside’s bloody freezing,” he declared unhappily.

“Is that the real reason all cycling apparel comes with a padded seat, ” I pondered. “Heat insulation?”

“Well, if it is, it’s not working,” G-Dawg affirmed.

“You should do this and put your hands down here,” the Garrulous Kid offered, stretching the groin area of his tights out alarmingly to indicate where me mean’t.

“There’s an offer you won’t get very often,” I decided, “Put your hands down your fellow cyclists trousers to warm them up.”

“That’s not what I mean’t” the Garrulous Kid objected, but it was too late.

“It’s me arse that’s cold, will that fit?” G-Dawg demanded

“Is this our #MeToo moment?” a Taffy Steve wondered laconically.

Oh dear.

Speaking of hash tags, did anyone else see the banner ads for #amazonshitcarshow and read it the same way I did? I was almost going to congratulate Amazon on brutally honest and forthright advertising, until I worked out what they were really trying to say about Mr Clarkson’s latest opus.

OGL took the opportunity to announce that a diary clash means he’s deprived of Jimmy Mac’s services for one of the races he organises and now needs someone else to step up and act as the event doctor.

The Garrulous Kid immediately volunteered and OGL had to patiently explain he actually needed a qualified doctor, not just someone with a scout’s First Aid badge and a willingness to wear a white coat and carry a stethoscope.

Taffy Steve and I wondered if any qualified doctor would do, perhaps a doctor of philosophy or a doctor of religion would serve? Although they probably wouldn’t be all that good at treating bodily injuries, they could always help you rationalise how you came to be lying bleeding in a ditch by the side of the road, or intercede on your behalf with the highest of authorities.

G-Dawg discussed route options and we agreed that the weather had suddenly and unexpectedly softened a little from late last night, so we could probably revert to the original route.

By contrast, the weather now seemed positively benign – which was saying something.

The Cow Ranger confirmed conditions had been deadly on Friday night, he’d gone out for a run with his dog, only to give up when it kept losing its footing on the ice. This saw it spinning slowly in circles, legs splayed, spread-eagled and out of control through a series of comedy falls.

Richard of Flanders appeared having cancelled the Saturday Go Ride session, which he was mean’t to be coaching, because conditions on Friday had looked so treacherous. The sudden and expected thaw now meant he was free to ride with us and G-Dawg wondered just how guilty he felt for this premature evaluation and cancellation.

To be honest, he didn’t look all that guilty, despite the vast numbers of heartbroken kids left at home and probably even now looking out the window and crying softly, while they wondered why they weren’t allowed to ride their bikes today.

Jimmy Mac offered up his own testimony to support the sudden thaw-thesis, relating how he’d attended the rugby on Friday night and determined conditions were so bad, he probably wouldn’t be able to ride Saturday morning, so felt free to indulge in a few libations to the gods of the oval ball. Now, with conditions radically improved, he was out, though feeling just a little bit fragile.

G-Dawg outlined Route Option A, Route Option B if things proved worse than expected and a Route Option C for the consideration of the Flat White club, including several detours to sate the needs of even the most ardent coffee connoisseur. We agreed to play it by ear once we got out into the frigid countryside but, all things considered, his original route now looked do-able.

We pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


I was in line, chatting with Sneaky Pete as we dropped down from Dinnington and pushed on toward Berwick Hill, when, with a clatter of skidding hooves on slick tarmac, a startled deer crashed through the trees, skittered across our path and disappeared again.

Oh deer.


Jets overhead

Through Ponteland and out onto Limestone Lane, we passed two more deer, who stopped briefly to give us the evil eye before bounding away.

“They’re coming down from the higher ground,” Sneaky Pete suggested ominously. Must be cold up there if it’s driving the wild life out, I thought. Oh deer, oh deer. (It’s ok, I’ve finished now.)

Further on and a fusillade of shots rang out from the woods flanking us. perhaps the deer had unwittingly walked into an ambush, or we’d stumbled across the training camp of the Northumberland Patriots preparing for their own private Waco moment.

We survived unscathed and, despite our best efforts and a route that took us along some less travelled back lanes, we singularly failed to find any dangerous, or even vaguely discomforting roads. The only issue we really had was with the Cow Ranger’s chain, which was dropped more times than the bar of soap in a public school shower block.

Strung out a little on the climb up the village of Ryal, we regrouped at the top, inviting the Garrulous Kid to act out his bravado and actually head down the climb. He declined to descend.

Thinking we were of one mind, I rolled away from the group and made my way toward the turn for the Quarry, expecting everyone to catch up in short order. At the junction though, we discovered that our numbers were light and we’d lost a handful of riders.

We pulled up to wait and finally, after long minutes, an estranged quartet of riders finally appeared. They’d realised that the Cow Ranger was missing and retraced our route to the last spot we could remember seeing him, but he remained as elusive as the enigmatic pimpernel. No track, no trace, no sign, no odd stain on the tarmac from a dropped chain.

We pondered where he could have gone – the route straight on led to the village centre before petering into a rough farm track that led nowhere, the right turn would have brought him past us, while a left would see him dropping down the Ryals, which we all agreed was madness in these conditions.

“Perhaps he back-tracked down the same route we took to get up here?” G-Dawg considered.

“Or, he’s hiding behind a hedge, giggling madly at us trying desperately to find him?” I suggested.

After few more minutes of waiting and prevaricating and getting colder, we finally decided the Cow Ranger was a big boy and could probably look after himself. Anyway, we reasoned, if the worst came to the worst, his body would be perfectly preserved in these freezing conditions and we could pick it up next week.

We pushed on to the Quarry, startled by how much colder it seemed at the top of the climb, our highest point of the day, but still only about 200 metres above sea level. No wonder the wildlife were fleeing to lower pastures.

Jimmy Mac and Caracol took us at increasing pace from the top of the Quarry and through Hallington crossroads, then ceded the front. I wasn’t paying a great deal of attention, so Caracol had to physically ask if I was going to come through.

Oops. Sorry guys.

I drove the group through the twisting corners, down the descent to the first junction, then halfway up the rise to final turn before I was done and dropping back, leaving the rest to contend the sprint down to the Snake Bends.

Well, that warmed me up a bit.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:

The cafe was surprisingly full and, shockingly, not everyone taking up the seats was a cyclist in dire need of a life-saving injection of caffeine and cake. Didn’t these people recognise our needs? (The short answer is a definitive no.)

We finally found a space tucked into a corner, where Caracol was the first to dare the omerta and query my filthy-dirty and anti-social blerging habits, which (if you’re reading this) you’ll know I’ve singularly failed to break.

I explained that I felt I couldn’t possibly give up when there was such a massive public outcry and outpouring of support for further adventures sur la jante – proudly mentioning that two whole (real and not imaginary!) people had urged me to continue. (Thanks Mum, thanks Dad).

I explained that, apart from finding the time to actually write this drivel, my main problem was simply remembering what actually went on during any given ride – which is why I make all of this up, well apart from the bits that actually happened, obviously. I can’t help thinking the older I get, the more challenging this bit might prove.

Caracol suggested I should not only carry a camera, but maybe a dictaphone too, so I had a record of what was being said. The Colossus though was quick to point out that 3 hours of someone panting like an asthmatic dog on a pollen farm, interspersed with an angry bloke bellowing random, only occasionally intelligible imprecations, probably wouldn’t be all that helpful in constructing a record of what actually took place. Think I’ll stick to wild fiction then.

Taffy Steve arrived expounding on the delights of lime drizzle cake – apparently, while lemon drizzle cake is good – its lime-based cousin is simply awe-some, extraordinary, amaze-balls, da bomb, etc. He’d spent time trying to convince the cafe staff that it was the future, but I suspect he was wasting his time.

Call of the search! At some point during our sojourn the Cow Ranger re-appeared, wholly intact and apparently of sound mind – despite that fact that he had indeed taken the freezing plunge down the Ryals. Brave fellow.


I caught up with Cowin’ Bovril on the way home. He has grand plans to not only buy and restore an original Volkswagen Beetle, but then convert it to run on an electric motor.

At this point I realised that, as an odd obsession, blerging was much less of a money and time-sink than many other strange pecadilloes I could have.

And then we were exiting the Mad Mile and the fun and frivolity was over … for another week. Upward and onward.


YTD Totals: 491 km / 305 miles with 6,771 metres of climbing.

Back to the Wind

Back to the Wind

Total Distance:80km/50 miles & 1,114 metres of climbing
Riding Time:3 hours 19 minutes
Average Speed:24.2 km/h
Group Size:9
Temperature:12°C
Weather in a word or two:Unseasonably warm

Ride Profile

Another change of weather for the last Saturday club run of the year, and a morning that proved to be startlingly warm, but once again disrupted by almost constant gusting and bellowing winds that often made riding a draining struggle.

Any hopes of a peaceful, relaxed start to my ride were shattered by a squalling, squealing bit of extreme mudguard frotting. This had the crowd at a bus stop clamping hands over their ears, while one or two ran to find cover, no doubt suspecting my tyre was about to blow.

Like a car with a furiously slipping fan belt, it sounded much worse than it actually was, but there was no way I could ride with that racket. I stopped for a bit of all-in, mudguard wrangling, made a few adjustments, picked up the front of the bike and spun the wheel. Blissful silence.

I pressed on, getting no more than 5 yards before the infernal racket had me stopping again. I finally determined that the noise was actually coming from the rear wheel, not the front one as I’d first thought. I bent the mudguard stays a little, this way and that and it seemed to work.

Remounting again I pushed off and pressed on, tentatively at first and then with more confidence as the squealing appeared to have been cured. Crossing the river, I first picked up a tailwind and then picked up the pace, wondering how much time I had lost thwarting my bikes attempts to earn me an ASBO.

Over my right shoulder, a thin paring of a ghostly moon was just starting to fade into the brightening day, while ahead the sunrise painted the clouds in pastel pinks and peaches. It was a pretty enough picture, but lacking the primordial drama of last weeks fiery inferno.

I ran my first time-check as I clambered out of the valley. I’d done 4.7 miles and it was 8:39. My usual guide to being on schedule is having covered 8.42 miles by 8:42 and, by this measure, I was desperately behind. I pressed down on the pedals that bit harder, found a bigger gear and dropped a little lower on the bike to help combat the wind.

Two mile further on, when my Garmin still read 4.7 miles covered, I realised I’d somehow managed to pause it while wrangling the mudguards and I probably wasn’t as far behind schedule as I first thought. Idiot. Sure enough, it was only a couple of minutes past the hour and well within my usual arrival window when I finally reached the meeting place.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Our ride leader for the day, the Hammer had taken to early morning social-media to question the sanity of riding when it was “blowing an absolute gale.” He’d manned up for the occasion though and then firmly doubled down on macho by arriving on his fixie.

He reported that Taffy Steve was attempting to batter his way in from the coast, but otherwise numbers were likely to be somewhat depressed.

For some bizarre reason, the Garrulous Kid was eager to tell anyone who’d listen (and a few who wouldn’t) that the Red Max had taken to calling him “pencil dick” for the entirety of their extended ride home last week.

Having pointlessly posited unfavourable impressions about his own anatomical short-comings, the Garrulous Kid then spent the next few minutes refuting them, before asserting that he was, in fact, rather mightily and enormously endowed in the … err … trouser department.

This suddenly started to make sense to G-Dawg, who realised carrying such an encumbrance could potentially have a material effect on bike handling skills.

“So, can you not turn to the left, simply because you dress to the right then?” he wondered …

All told, there were 9 of us gathered around as the clock ticked past 9:15 and our usual departure time. Five long minutes later, there was still only 9 of us and we decided that we had our group for the day. (Apparently Taffy Steve arrived scant minutes after we’d left, having battled a debilitating headwind along his entire route, but at least he would have had a turbo-charged ride back again, having barely missed out.)

“Two groups, then?” Captain Black queried, knowing full well we’d be in one very compact group, riding as close together as possible to try and exact the maximum shelter from the rider in front.

G-Dawg and the Hammer led us out and away we went.


It was brutal and exposed and out on the roads, hard work even tucked at the back and we had a constant rotation on the front, as we burned out a succession of riders. Everyone was battling with the wind and what little conversation there was seemed terse and desultory.

Our ninth man was Fleisher Yarn, a refugee from the Grognard’s, who was starting to struggle by the time we hit Black Callerton and an enforced pause at the level-crossing. Here we had to let a Metro rumble past, laden with brave, brave shoppers heading for the Sales, a brief respite before we pushed on again.

By the time we reached the junction of Stamfordham Road, Fleisher Yarn was long gone and nowhere in sight. We pulled over in a driveway to hunker down and wait, looking back down the long straight road for any sign of our detached companion.

After a brief wait he appeared and started to draw closer. Seeing us stopped at the junction he waved for us just to continue without him, day-glo green gloves flashing in the light like some manic, overworked air marshal on a carrier flight-deck.

When we didn’t move, he continued to wave us off, his gestures becoming more and more pronounced as we didn’t seem to be responding. Finally, like the idiots we undoubtedly are, we just took to waving wildly and happily back at him, every time he tried to move us on.

Regrouping briefly, Fleisher Yarn explained he was struggling to keep up, not enjoying the conditions and was happy to just go solo and amend his route accordingly. We pushed on without him, while he set a course for Kirkley Cycles.

I took a turn in the wind just before we hit Stamfordham, linking up with Ovis, who’d already wrung out, used up and discarded Captain Black at the front. Ovis was obviously “on a good one,” feeling super-strong and frisky. He set a pace that I had to scramble to match and which he kept only just shy of being desperately uncomfortable.

Just past the village of Fenwick, we took the lane that would route us around Matfen and, half way up, picked up a trio of cyclists, wastrel’s, waifs and strays, although I’m not sure which was which. They had stopped at the side of the road, perhaps to regather their strength and, from there, they politely implored us to let them tag onto the back of the group.



“The more the merrier, there’s plenty of room at the front,” Captain Black informed them happily, but that wasn’t what they had in mind. Inexplicably they declined his offer and slotted in at the back. (To be fair, they not only bolstered our numbers, but would later contribute on the front too.)

By the time we turned for the Quarry, I’d dropped off the front and was drifting back through the pack, where I found the Garrulous Kid, malingering, avoiding the front and saving himself for the cafe sprint. He was buoyed by the absence of the Colossus and liked his chances.

I kept pace with the sprinters until I felt I was well inside the neutralised 3 km zone and eased back to let them have their fun and the Garrulous Kid his fleeting moment of glory.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The Hammer wondered how much pleasure the Garrulous Kid got from a sprint victory where he managed to beat a bunch of old blokes twice his age, when a quarter of them were on fixies and they’d all spent the past couple of hours towing him around the lanes.

I could have saved him his breath, the Garrulous Kid liked it plenty…

Talk then turned to magnificently bald domes, hair loss and the other impediments of ageing. In an act of pure mischief, I mentioned to the Garrulous Kid that I thought it looked like his hair was receding already.

And he bit.

Hard.

He spent the next 20 minutes vigorously denying he was losing his hair, while smoothing down his fringe, tentatively probing the back of his scalp and taking multiple close-up selfies of his hairline.

G-Dawg wondered if genetics played a part. “Is your dad’s hair receding too?” he queried innocently.

“No, but his mum’s as bald as an egg,” Captain Black quipped.

“I have a classic V-shaped hairline,” the Garrulous Kid recounted defensively, in what sounded suspiciously like something he’d been told to say.

“Ah, like Ray Reardon?” G-Dawg wondered. There was then a brief interlude when we tired to determine if Ray “Dracula” Reardon was still around. (Now 86, Google reports he’s happily retired and living in Devon.)

“No, not like Ray Reardon, like Daniel Craig,” the Garrulous Kid insisted.

“Who is going bald,” I added, shamelessly recalling the shock# horror# headlines in the Daily Heil: “Is James Bond going bald?” This erudite, momentous and earth-shattering article had quoted the world’s leading hair loss expert, who had “voiced his concern’s over 007’s receding temples in hit movie Skyfall.”

(I know, I know … there’s so much wrong with that last paragraph, that I don’t know where to start, but let’s just go with the flow, eh?)

We then recalled some truly classic comb-overs, with that of Bobby Charlton coming out “top” and even trumping Donald Trump’s fantastical, but completely natural, candy-floss concoction.

“Bobby Charlton, eh? His hair could be offside, even when he was standing in his own half.” G-Dawg declared.

Appearances briefly became the topic du jour, with the Hammer emphasising the need for a good moisturising regimen, while lauding Captain Black’s superior skin tone. He then suggested Captain Black bore more than a passing resemblance to good-looking, Belgian Classics maestro, Peter van Petegem.

I checked, he was right:

On the left, Captain Black, while on the right is Peter van Petegem in his Mysteron Team kit

It was still too early for G-Dawg to set off for home – he’s terrified he’ll get back before 1 o’clock one week and will then be expected back before 1 o’clock every week – so we went for a sneaky, strictly verboten, second free cup of coffee and learned all about the Hammer’s lost weekend, in a hotel in Amsterdam. 

I dunno, but it sounds like there could be a good song in there, somewhere …


Finally prised out of the cafe, we saddled- up and rode off for the trip back. Despite the Garrulous Kid still harping on about his hair, things were going smoothly, until Berwick Hill, when Captain Black pulled his pedal clean off its spindle.

I turned back to find him standing at the side of the road, a Look pedal still firmly clamped to the bottom of his shoe and learning just how difficult it is to uncleat with your bare hands.

He tried slotting the pedal back on its spindle, but it kept pulling loose and he realised he’d have to ride a little more slowly and carefully. He waved us away and set to follow at a more sedate pace, limping his way back home.

G-Dawg suffered a ridiculously close punishment pass for daring to hold up traffic for a heartbeat as we skirted the airport. Sadly the driver didn’t take up our invite to discuss his grievances in a polite and considered manner.

The group then split and I tracked G-Dawg and Ovis through the Mad Mile, before swinging away for home. The wind had died down a little, it was incredibly mild and the sky was the pale, washed out colour of faded denim, marred only by a few gauzy aeroplane contrails.

It was turning into a very pleasant last hurrah for 2018, ending with a similar mileage total to my 2017 and the positives and good experiences by far outweighing the negatives.

Now I get to start all over again, but with a small interlude for Thing#2’s birthday next week, when I’ll miss the first official club run of 2019.

The end of the year seems like a good time to stop and take stock and I’ve now got an additional week to consider if I want to continue with this thing (the crap writing, not the crap riding, obviously).

We’ll see.


2018 Totals: 7,341 km / 4,562 miles with 89,974 metres of climbing.

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.


Entropy

Entropy

Club Run, Saturday 1st December, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:92 km/57 miles with 605 metres of climbing
Ride Time:3 hours 47 minutes
Average Speed:24.4 kph
Group Size:24
Temperature:6°C
Weather in a word or two:Unremittingly bleak

Ride Profile

The amber tinted lenses of my Agu cycling specs can usually make even the bleakest of days appear bright and sunny, but they must have developed a fault and stopped working on Saturday. The sky was sombre-hued and oppressively dark, piled with heavy clouds, while at ground level, a dull, chilly mist hung low, wet and stifling. Still, I thought happily, dank, damp and dreary as it is, at least it’s not actually raining…

Front and back lights on and blinking away furiously in the murk, I dropped off the hill and began to make my way to the meeting point.

I found both sides of the bridge swarming with cars, trailers, boats and over 100 crews, all congregating for the Rutherford Head of the River Race, which promised a pretty full day of competition out on the water.

The Tyne Rowing Club would later describe this event as being held in “excellent conditions” although they did qualify this with the admission that they just meant it was excellent for rowing – i.e. calm and windless. They did acknowledge that crews, launch drivers, marshals and umpires suffered mightily in the freezing cold rain.

This freezing cold rain featured in our ride too, starting almost the moment we left the meeting point and continuing, without pause, for the entire duration of our ride and beyond. Another bleak and brutal day – to be endured as much as it was enjoyed.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

I noticed G-Dawg had relocated his big brass bell to the side of his stem.  This, he explained, was not only more discrete, but stopped him sounding like a struck gong whenever he rode through a pothole. Besides, I suggested, he could always ring it with his knee, like the cycling equivalent of a one man band. G-Dawg then fondly reminisced about utterly destroying the down-tube shifter on his old mountain bike, when he kneed it into oblivion during a particularly vigorous, out of the saddle climbing exercise. 

We were hoping that Goose would turn up with the new 1,500 lumen front light he’s been boasting about, but it wasn’t to be. Sensibly he’d decided that his already weighty, steel behemoth of a grand touring bike, burdened under multiple pannier racks, was handicap enough, without adding the additional weight of his new portable searchlight and separate battery pack.

He did suggest the new lamp was good for picking out bombers on a moonless night, communicating with fishing boats far offshore, or just turning midnight into midday. I wondered if it would also be useful for lamping rabbits and badgers, a use Goose hadn’t previously considered, but now began to seriously think about. Perhaps it could even have brightened the gloom of this particular morning …

But then again, probably not. 

Goose sought out OGL for advice about swapping out the cantilever brakes on his steel behemoth for something more effective. The price of this advice was, of course, the standard, ritual condemnation of his bike, this time with the added spice of an assertion that Goose’s rear wheel was, in highly technical terms, fucked. The rim apparently badly worn and the tyre bulging.

“She’s gonna blow,” I think was the exact phrase used, something I never thought I’d hear outside of Hollywood’s hoariest movie cliche’s. (According to the Short List, it belongs in the top 20 most over-used lines in Hollywood blockbusters, having appeared, with scant variation, in 53 different movies.)

Shockingly, it was Garmin Muppet Time +2, before a seriously tardy Aether called for attention and began to address the gathered riders, “Hello, for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Richard … and this is the route for the day.”

The plan was to include an ascent of the Quarry climb, before a general re-grouping, with longer route options around Capheaton and Hallington. 

Crazy Legs outlined the Third Way, a more refined, relaxed and genteel, Flat White Ride, that would once again make use of the excellent cafe facilities at Matfen. I flashed him a quick thumbs up – it seemed like a grand plan.

Although shorn of the actual and original Monkey Butler Boy this week, his Wrecking Crew of Monkey Butler Boy Mini-Me’s all congregated at the start, aiming to set out with us, like a fighter escort for a group of heavy bombers. After brief exposure to their chatter, I’ve decided the most appropriate collective noun for a group of Monkey Butler Boys is a squabble.

Ignoring the squabble, who would we know, abandon us after just a few miles, there were 24 of us and we decided to split into two groups. Numbers looked suspiciously low in the front group as they started to form up, so I bumped down off the pavement and joined up, hoping to even things out a little.


With Jimmy Mac, Kermit, the Cow Ranger and Rainman driving things along on the front, we started fast and just kept going.

The pace was so high that when Caracol dropped back to pull on a waterproof jacket in the face of rapidly intensifying rain, he had a real chase just to catch back on.

Then, once they reached Bingo Fuel, the squabble made off like the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz. I thought at one point they had managed to abduct the Garrulous Kid in his ruby red jacket. Somehow though he managed to extricate himself from their evil clutches and slowly dropped back and into our group again.



I hung at the back, catching-up with Kermit, before dropping in alongside a relative FNG, Baby Doc, for much of the ride.

With his help I charted the ingress of cold water as it breached my defences, first the waterproof gloves, then the waterproof boots and finally the forearms of my waterproof jacket. I made use of his medical expertise to check out known cures for trench foot, reasoning it could be knowledge I might need before the end of the ride. 

We also discussed why certain drivers, particularly those who struggle to wear a cap the right way round, pay good money to make their cars sound broken. We reached no conclusions.

As we hammered through Matfen, I was tempted to peel off into the cafe and await the appearance of Crazy Legs and the rest of the Flat White Crew, but the opportunity went past long before cryogenically sluggish limbs could respond to my frantic brain signals.

Caracol shipped his chain on the climb, so we had a brief pause to regroup, before the pace was pushed up again, as we drove toward the Quarry seemingly anxious just to get the ride over with.

I was in tight and up close to Rainman, as we made the run to the bottom of the Quarry Climb. Too close, as a matter of fact. He jumped out of the saddle and there was that dreaded micro-pause as he suddenly stopped pedalling and his bike seemed to lurch back at me.

With a loud “bzzzzt” my front tyre butted his rear wheel and was flicked to the right. I twitched it back, through a more prolonged “bzzzzt, zzzzt”  as I  brushed his tyre again, but this time going in the opposite direction. Then he was pulling clear, I steadied the bike, breathed a sigh of relief and, still resolutely upright, on we went.

The top of the Quarry climb was the designated point for everyone to coalesce before splitting into fast and slow, short and long rides. Most of us though had seen quite enough of the foul weather and decided to cut the ride short and head straight for the cafe.

G-Dawg said he would hold back to meet up with the others, while Caracol, Ovis and a few other brave and hardy souls decided to complete the full ride.   

I was left alone with lots of big, powerful and fast units. Oh and Kermit. Jimmy Mac, Rainman, the Cow Ranger and Baby Doc began driving the pace up and up as we closed on the cafe.

I hung on with a bit of late braking and tight cornering, even hitting the front on the grind up to Wallridge Crossroads in a show of ill-conceived bravado. I was helped in my task by members of the local hunt, ambling their mounts up and down the road and causing the racing peloton to briefly slow and give the sometimes skittish horses a wide berth.

As the final sprint wound up I was on Kermit’s wheel until he decided he’d had enough, eased and dropped away. By the time I’d rounded him the gap had blown wide open and there was no closing it, so I rolled into the cafe on my own.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Talking about my touch of wheels, the Cow Ranger declared that, “it caused a ripple through the entire peloton.”

“Well, it caused a ripple through my entire colon, too,” I offered.

Riders kept pitching up to drop new, wet articles on top of the pile of discarded hats, gloves, caps and buffs already laid in a steaming pile on top of the stove. Rainman played Mother, deftly flipping gloves and hats like the world’s best short-order cook, ensuring they were evenly toasted on both sides and encouraging their wet dog smell to pervade the entire cafe.

Kermit, with access to the stove blocked by our “Frying Dutchman”™ took to drying his hat on over his teapot, which wore it like a bad, cycling tea cosy – perhaps something Rapha would make and sell for a small ransom.

His cap was soon steaming briskly and I wondered how he was going to explain away a scalded scalp when he arrived at A&E, having clapped it onto his head without letting it cool slightly.

Then, of course, because I was surrounded by a bunch of medical types, they started to regale us with all the odd insertions they’d recovered from their patients body cavities and all the convoluted excuses used to explain them, such as one unfortunate trying to justify to the Cow Ranger how they accidentally ended up with a toilet brush firmly wedged up their rectum – bristle end first.

Jimmy Mac recalled one particularly delicate operation to remove a broken Coke bottle from an anal passage, after which the medical team were challenged by the supervising surgeon to explain why the patient had used a Coke bottle. 

After a few minutes of rejecting all their wild and inaccurate medical  and anatomical speculation, it was revealed that the correct answer was, “because he couldn’t get 7-Up.” This, I think just goes to show that even the most elevated and refined amongst us aren’t immune to the allure of bad Dad jokes. 

Across the next table a fellow cyclist was brought a plate of steaming poached eggs on toast and a suddenly interested Kermit wondered if he’d be allowed to drop his cap over them, to help dry it out a little more.

I then pulled my buff back on and Kermit told me it made me look like Eton-and Oxford educated, Tory Euroseptic (sic) and Bullingdon Club Grand Poobah, the privileged, bigoted, supremely condescending and quite abhorrent, Jacob Rees Mogg. Kermit, you complete and utter bastard. I. Hate. You.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Mac wondered why everyone seemed so keen to set their gloves to smouldering on the wet stove. “I think cold and wet is much more preferable to warm and wet,” he declared.

I wondered if this was a general life choice, or only extended to water-logged articles of cycle clothing. He defended his position by referring to the phenomena of boiling water freezing much quicker than cold water, arguing you’d be chilled quicker in warm wet gloves, than in just wet gloves.

Often referred to as the “Mpemba Effect” – Jimmy Mac explained that the most likely explanation for this was “entropy.” I was in no position to argue and took him at his word. (Trying to read up about it later, I would be defeated by the sentence, “hydrogen bonds are weaker than covalent bonds but stronger than the van der Waals forces that geckos use to climb walls” – so let’s just leave it there and go for entropy as an adequate enough explanation, ok?)

“See,” Jimmy Mac declared, “I think we’ve genuinely raised the level of cycling club talk to a whole new, stratospheric, super-enlightened height.”

A few breaths later and we were back discussing the value of waterproof socks and neoprene overshoes. I looked across at Jimmy Mac and mimed a plane nose-diving into the ground. Well, he’d tried.


At the cafe early, we set off for home early, in the same small group, again ramping the pace up for the first few miles, just to try and warm up. At the Kirkley junction, I swung away for route through Ponteland and past the airport, making a bee-line for home and not even considering my usual short-cut which grants me quieter roads, in return for a bit more climbing.

As I dropped down toward the river, the valley floor was shrouded in low, wet and clinging cloud – ideal conditions for the dozens of crews scattered across the Tyne? Maybe not.

The same, thick, wet fog served to decapitate part of the Heinous Hill, but I sadly knew it was an optical illusion and the road still dragged all the way up to the top. Despite carrying perhaps an extra 4 or 5lbs in excess water in my sodden clothing, I managed the climb reasonably well, spurred on by thoughts of a hot shower, although dreading the pain it would bring as the blood flooded back into my frozen extremities.

Before disappearing to scream like a girl in the shower, I discarded  a pile of  water-logged outer kit on the tiles in front of the washing machine. It looked as if someone had caught the Wicked Witch of the West in our kitchen, poured a bucket of cold, dirty water over her head and watched her dissolve until there was nothing left but a puddling heap of sad and sodden, dirty clothes on the floor.

So, not the most pleasant of rides, still it had its moments and was suitably entertaining despite everything. Hopefully things will be better when we give it another go, next week.


YTD Totals: 6,936 km / 4,310 miles with 84,684 metres of climbing

Half Man Half Mudlark

Half Man Half Mudlark

Club Run, Saturday 24th November, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:96km/60 miles with 981 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 2 minutes
Average Speed:24.3 kph
Group Size:24, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:8°C
Weather in a word:Chill

Ride Profile

I missed last week due to a lingering chest infection, but felt I’d just about recovered enough to get back in the saddle, albeit running at around three-quarters optimum efficiency and accompanied by a hacking cough.

Saturday morning turned out to be murky, misty and foggy, first thing and I was pleased to be well-bundled up in my thickest base layer, winter jacket, rain jacket, thermal socks, buff, headband, gloves  and glove-liners, as I dropped down the hill, buffeted by a chill wind.

Turning along the valley, I tracked, but couldn’t catch, a fellow rider, marked by the wan, ghostly glow of bare legs, as much as by the tell-tale flicker of red lights on his bike and helmet. Once again I am humbled by how inured some North East riders seem to be to the biting cold. Perhaps I’m just a wimp.

I was on-time to be held-up at the level crossing by the 8:15 Blaydon to Hexham train, otherwise it was a standard and uneventful ride across to the meeting place.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Taffy Steve told me I’d missed another massive turnout of near on 40 riders last week. Speculation about whether this was due to OGL’s pre-announced absence remain just that, purely speculative, but that’s 2 bumper winter rides in the pace of a month and quite unusual behaviour. Perhaps this is a cyclists response to climate change?

Part of the high turnout seemed to revolve around the Monkey Butler Boy’s Wrecking Crew, who had congregated to ride with us part way, before scuttling away to do their own thing.  The Red Max mentioned Taffy Steve had been bewildered by this troupe of Monkey Butler Boy clones (have I spelt that right? – I’m sure there’s mean’t to be a ‘w’ in there somewhere) – who all shared a certain, raw-boned hungry look, in their all matching, carefully coordinated kit. I suspect William Golding might have found them an endless source of inspiration.

I couldn’t help recalling the moment I first encountered this particular subgenus in the café garden, as they swarmed around a bike, pointing and jabbering excitedly at this, that or the other, before moving on to the next bike to repeat the process and then the next and then the next…

The Garrulous Kid wanted to now why ever-present G-Dawg wasn’t present. “It’s not 9 o’clock yet,” Crazy Legs replied laconically.

“But, it’s nearly 9 o’clock,” the Garrulous Kid answered.

“Yes, but it isn’t 9 o’clock.”

“So, what time’s it now?” Crazy Legs asked after a short while.

“It’s just turned 9 o’clock, official Garmin Muppet Time,” someone replied, glancing down at their Garmin.

“See!” Crazy Legs nodded to where G-Dawg was pulling up, on cue and bang on time, his internal navigation, vectoring protocols and automated targeting systems, whirring and clicking away with mechanised efficiency.  

We were all hugely impressed by the Red Max’s lights, especially the one on the front of his bike, a common or garden, Pifco torch,  mummified in swathes of  gaffer tape that strapped it directly to the underside of his stem. This, the Red Max explained was purely for the Wednesday night chain-gangs, which is the only bit of riding he does in the dark, so he didn’t see the need for actual bike lights with a proper mounting.

The Red Max broke of our conversation to clamber up onto the wall and outline the route. “Hello,” he began, “For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Richard and this is the route for the day …”

He then apologised for selecting a rather standard, regular, run-of-the-mill ride, without even any variation in the direction we were running the different segments.

“That’s fine, ” I told him, “If we run another route widdershins, we’ll just end up summoning the devil.”

Two groups were agreed, with a more or less equal split of the numbers and off we went.


I rolled out in the second group, not looking for anything too fast and frenetic and hoping to get through the ride without inducing a mammoth coughing bout.

I fell in alongside Crazy Legs as we rolled out, principally tasked with helping him decipher the lyrics to a Half Man Half Biscuit song that was rattling around in his brain.



It was undeniably chilly out on the roads and I could feel my toes slowly turning numb. As we followed the Red Max out and up Limehouse Lane, I plaintively asked if there was a café nearby. I was only half-joking, but let’s just say the opportunity for the inaugural Winter 2018 Flat White ride didn’t fall entirely on barren soil.  

Crazy Legs suggested a early coffee intervention at Matfen, so we did our stint on the front and pulled the group through to Stamfordham, before turning off the planned route for a shortcut to caffeine succour.

Sneaky Pete joined us and for a moment our desperate trio were united in a co-ordinated bout of coughing, so we sounded like the TB wing of the club, or desperate refugees at the Mexican-US border breathing in a very minor form of tear gas. (Very safe.)

For a time I pushed on at the front alongside Sneaky Pete, with Crazy Legs running along behind and between us, declaring rather contentedly, “It’s nice back here.” 

A few turns along wet and muddy roads though and he became suspiciously solicitous, asking how I was feeling and suggesting I needed a spell off the front. I let him through and he immediately explained he was ok riding behind me, but for some reason Sneaky Pete’s (almost identical) mudguard was spraying him with road crud, so one side of his body was pristine, clean and dry, the other splattered and speckled with mud.

Leading from the front, Crazy Legs guided us unerringly to the hidden jewel of Matfen village store, complete with its own café  and one of those huffing, spluttering, gurgling, steaming, barrista-wrangling, coffee machines, where we went for flat whites all around.

Damn fine coffee.


Main Topics of Conversation – Coffee Stop#1

We decided the the Flat White Club needed a President to promote its life-affirming, ride enhancing, cold alleviating properties and duly proposed, seconded and elected Taffy Steve to the role … in his absence.

We then worked out an impressive number of Flat White ride options, which included potential coffee interludes at Kirkley Cycles, Matfen, the Gubeon, Belsay, Capheaton and Bolam Lake.

Sneaky Pete impressed me with his adoption and familiarity with the Apple Pay digital wallet, something Crazy Legs had recommended to him. I was overwhelmed by his all round tech savvy  and acuity and felt there was hope for us Luddite’s yet …

Then he went and spoiled by becoming the only person in living history to lament the demise of (the dreadful!) Freeserve internet and email service.


Suitably warmed through and refreshed, we left the café  just as our front group charged through the village and swung away up the hill. We were almost, almost, perfectly placed just to drop onto the back, but they were travelling just a little too fast and we would have needed to have left the
café  about 30 seconds earlier to tag on without a supreme effort.

Not to worry, we saddled up and followed as they made their way to the Quarry, at which point they picked the pace up and we wouldn’t see them again until we made the café .

The three of us pushed on anyway, and arrived just behind the front group to join the back of a ridiculously long queue that stretched w-a-a-a-y back.


Main Topics of Conversation – Coffee Stop#2

“Bloody hell! I thought you had a full head of hair under that helmet,” Crazy Legs couldn’t help exclaiming, as we tagged onto the back of the queue, just behind the Ticker, sans helmet. Smooth.

Meanwhile Sneaky Pete carefully assessed the length of the queue, carefully assessed the  likely delay and issues he’d cause by being devoted technocrat,
right on the cutting-edge of digital payment systems and wielding Apple Pay with confidence and impunity. He then, wisely decided he’d rather head for home than challenge the antiquated, antediluvian staff and their convoluted and tortuous till system. So, he sneaked away. 


Oh mi corazón! For reasons unknown, Crazy Legs started singing the Clash song, Spanish Bombs, before declaring the ride had done him a world of good and helped him clear his chest. “I’ve howked up a right load of crap,” he declared happily.

I commended him, not so much on the therapeutic  benefits of the ride, but on his use of a good Geordie word I haven’t heard for years. Howk – a wonderfully onomatopoeic word, suggesting something that’s physically clawed out and expelled violently – most often used in the context of brutal and fierce expectoration.

We finally got served and seated, although not without a few problems with Crazy Legs’ own digital wallet, which needed several attempts to work and proved Sneaky Pete, as well as being an early-adopter, was both prescient and perspicacious.

These travails with digital payments also sadly revealed that we were in a wi-fi black spot, so Crazy Legs couldn’t share the video of creepy, distasteful and oleaginous MP, Michael Gove slipping  and falling on his arse in Downing Street.

It seemed I then only had time to briefly rib the Garrulous Kid for asking what was happening next Fursday, before we were collecting our kit and heading out again.


A decent pace was set for the run home and I found myself on the front as the majority peeled-off left. I accelerated and pushed straight on, into the Mad Mile, expecting at any minute to be passed by a flying G-Dawg and Colossus, racing to be first home and into the shower. But, somehow, I reached my turn-off still leading the group and swung away for home.

Hmm, perhaps the 10-mile less than normal I’d covered on the day, the relatively modest pace, or lack of full-blooded cafe sprint, made all the difference and meant I was fresher than usual and able to hold off any challenges from those behind?

Or, more likely, G-Dawg and the Colossus had already negotiated first use of the shower via a complex, rock-paper-scissors style-challenge and were just cruising home now on autopilot. We’ll never know.

Like my run in, my return was delayed at the level crossing, this time by a train running the opposite way, from Hexham to Blaydon. Still, I was in no hurry, the weather was fine, I felt pretty decent and, like Crazy Legs, I think the run out had actually helped with the chest infection.

That means next week it’s back to the full distance, full-blooded cafe sprint and being ritually expelled, or even howked,  from the back of the group at the end of the Mad Mile.

Unless, of course, someone suggests a Flat White Ride…

Anyone?


YTD Totals: 6,787 km / 4,217 miles with 83,107 metres of climbing