Wet and Dry

Wet and Dry

 

Club Run, Saturday 7th April, 2018           

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  120 km / 75 miles with 1,053 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 25 minutes

Average Speed:                                25.5 km/h

Group size:                                         18 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    12°C

Weather in a word or two:          A game of two halves


 

7 april
Ride Profile

Supposedly away with the family on a holiday spanning two Saturday’s, we’d packed up and returned a night early, lured back by home comforts and (most especially) an efficient central heating and hot water system. As an added bonus, I got to join the regular club ride, planned by G-Dawg and taking us down the Tyne Valley for a route that, for me at least, promised to be a long one and ended up just shy of 75 miles.

First thing on Saturday morning and things looked promising too – gauzy tendrils of cloud webbed the sky, but in between were patches of pure blue and as I sped along the valley floor a bright sun threw long, sharp shadows ahead of me. The forecast was for showers later, but I didn’t quite believe it. I should have known better.

Off to my right as I crossed the bridge, the river was wreathed in a light morning mist that the sun lit with a pearlescent glow. It really was a beautiful, still morning and a promising start.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Having tortured, scorched and burned his old gloves into submission, the Garrulous Kid was sporting a new pair of migraine-inducing, intensely “illuminous” gloves. I wondered how long these would remain in pristine unmarked condition before being scorched and singed beyond recognition.

He reported he’d secured some work experience in a lab, prompting Caracol to wonder if he would be doing lab work, or would himself be the subject of some intensive lab-testing. We were all relieved to find the lab itself belonged to P&G and was not some mysterious, MOD, Porton Down-style centre for chemical and biological warfare, reasoning the Garrulous Kid’s propensity to do us major harm with domestic chemicals was probably quite limited.

For some reason I found Taffy Steve and the Colossus discussing Knight Rider, which the Colossus likened to the Berlin Wall, something he was aware of, but readily admitted he didn’t know a lot about. Taffy Steve liked the analogy, especially as in his mind the two would always be inextricably linked via David Hasselhoff.

This reminded me of my civic duty and I warned everyone not to go anywhere near the re-made, re-cycled, regurgitated “Baywatch” movie – something singularly lacking in even the slightest hint of style, wit, intelligence, humour, entertainment, merit or charm. 

OGL seemed fascinated by the ulra-low cut of Taffy Steve’s cycling shoes, which he said reminded him of some Shimano SPD cycling sandals he once owned. He warned us that, should we ever resort to such aggressively unstylish footwear (perish the thought) we should be careful not to get sunburned toes, which he revealed was not only very easy to do, but extremely painful.

I was massively surprised by this revelation, as I assumed anyone who would commit such a serious fashion-faux pas as wearing cycling sandals would almost certainly have doubled down on their crimes-against-style and paired them with sturdy and sensible socks.

G-Dawg outlined the route in precise detail, even as he admitted everyone probably stopped listening as soon as he got to Brunton Lane, the first of an extensive list of familiar waypoints he recounted. He acknowledged it was going to be a longer than usual ride (see, I told you) – but guaranteed we’d be back by 1 o’clock, otherwise he ran the risk of being emasculated by an irate Mrs. G-Dawg.

With that, we were away and 18 of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


The first surprise of the day was the Garrulous Kid immediately took to the front with G-Dawg. I knew he was up there because G-Dawg kept turning around to talk to the riders behind him, obviously needing an occasional injection of sane conversation as an antidote to the unceasing stream of nonsensical loggorhoea being poured into his left ear.

Meanwhile I slotted in beside Mini Miss, catching up on cycling holidays, sportives, vintage mountain bikes, Bianchi’s and Princess Fiona’s Ironman (Ironwoman? Ironprincess?) preparations.

As we changed things around, I learned of Rab Dee’s traditional Big Fat Greek Easter preparations and then found myself alongside Zardoz and chatting about the Classics. He said he’d been out a couple of weeks ago with a friend and mentioned how much he’d enjoyed watching such an exciting Tour of Flanders. The friend expressed disappointment at having inexplicably missed the race and implored Zardoz not to tell him the result.

“Well, Gilbert rode fantastically well,” Zardoz hinted darkly.

“What, like last year?” his companion wondered.

“Oh, well … yes, ahem … err, exactly like last year,” Zardoz huffed, as it finally dawned on him that what he’d actually been watching was a 2017 re-run on Eurosport, in anticipation of the actual, up-coming event.

“The funny thing was,” he admitted, “I’d sat down and watched the entire race the year before too!”

I had to admit to something similar, having recently cheered Michael Kwiatkowski onto a memorable second Strade Bianche win. It was only when the programme cut to the actual live event in progress, that I realised I too had been watching a re-run.

In my defence, I hadn’t managed to catch the race the year before, so I had no sense of deja vu. I’m still a bit chagrined at my mistake though – I really like Kwiatkowski as a rider – to my mind the perfect quicksilver rapier to counter the powerful, but dull bludgeoning of the likes of Sagan – and I was happy when he seemed to win again.

A first desultory rain shower briefly peppered us as we started the long drop into the valley, before a pleasant saunter alongside a very still, placid looking river and an energetic clamber back out again. As the Colossus determined, the Tyne Valley was about as low as we could possibly go, while the top of the Quarry is typically the highest point we can reach, so today’s route was always going to be climbing-heavy.


mmmm


Stopping to regroup a few times, we finally escaped the valley and we headed more or less due north to Matfen and points beyond. I was a little distanced waiting for a car to pass before making the turn onto the Quarry road and had a bit of a scramble to chase back on in time for the climb. We then swung to the right, having determined the more direct, left-hand route is just too potholed and broken up for general use.

As usual, the pace began to quicken at this point and shook us out into a long line. Amidst the accelerations, Zardoz apparently found time to challenge G-Dawg to an intermediate sprint, but then “accidentally” spilled a glove and had to drop back to retrieve it.

G-Dawg made to pull clear as we approached the crossroads and I drifted across to cover his back wheel in case he was crazy enough to try a long range attack from this far out. (Forsooth, it’s madness, I tell you!)

I nudged ahead as we swept through the junction, calling out “clear” in a voice hopefully loud enough for even the absent Crazy Legs (at home nursing a bad back) to hear.

I pressed on, through the narrow, twisting bends and down to the next junction jockeying for the lead with Aether.

We almost came to a standstill at this junction, before accelerating hard and leading the charge up the two or three, minor, but leg-numbing, strength-sapping ramps to the next one.  Slowing just enough to see and be able to declare the way clear, we barrelled onto the road leading down to the Snake Bends. Work done, I let the fast charging sprinters through, finding a knot of 7 or 8 of us had broken well clear of the rest.

I tagged onto the back and followed this group through the final sprint, before twisting around the Snake Bends and onto the main road. Unusually, there seemed to be an impetus to keep driving the pace all the way to the café and I surfed the wheels from back to front, dropping into the car park in second place from where a quick transition put me to the front of the queue. Result!


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Once seated, Captain Black nearly decapitated a shuffling pensioner when he pushed his chair back withoout looking and then somehow conspired with Biden Fecht to unleash a tsunami of coffee across the table top.

During mop up operations, G-Dawg revealed that Zardoz had challenged him to an “intermediate sprint” before dropping his glove and stopping to retrieve it. I wondered if this was his idea of literally “throwing down the gauntlet.”  I then decided his original intent had probably been to slap G-Dawg’s face with the glove in ritual challenge and he’d fumbled this tricky manoeuvre.

The Garrulous Kid asked for advice on whether he should attempt some cycling when he went off to Florida for a family holiday. Listing Cottonmouth’s and Copperheads, Alligators and Black Bears, Southern Black Widow’s and Brown Recluse spiders, crazed gun-toting fundamentalists, drug-cartels, myopic, superannuated pensioners barely able to see over the bonnet of their road-hogging, gas-guzzling pick-ups, trigger-happy highway patrolmen, monster trucks, crack gangs, the challenge of riding on the different side of the road through killer heat and humidity, storms, tornadoes and flooding, I suggested there was really no reason whatsoever for him not to ride at every given opportunity. What could possibly go wrong?

This discussion then prompted me to wonder if, in extremis, a snake could be fashioned into a substitute for a punctured inner tube.

The Colossus suggested there was probably a state by-law forbidding people from inflating snakes, while Captain Black saw potential in the idea but suggested they wouldn’t be able to hold much more than 120 psi. He added that with alligator’s you could probably get up around 130-140 psi, before adding, “but, everyone knows Gatorskins are tougher.”

“Ba-bum!”  G-Dawg concluded drolly.

Meanwhile, G-Dawg sought OGL’s advice about removing a seat pin that had seized in his titanium mountain bike. He admitted it wasn’t really an issue as he couldn’t imagine ever having a need to adjust his saddle height, but G-Dawg being G-Dawg, I suspected it was a canker that was slowly eating up his soul.

“Ream it!”  OGL replied, somewhat lasciviously. “Ream it with a big reamer!” while, along with Slow Drinker I dissolved into a fit of schoolboy sniggering, before wondering if Stormy Daniels hadn’t used that exact same phrase in describing her remarkably tasteless dalliance with a certain orange dotard.

We then endured yet another round of guess-which-universities the Garrulous Kid should apply to. I’m not sure why, but Exeter, Plymouth and Aberdeen seemed the most popular choices, although Biden Fecht visibly blanched at the latter suggestion.

Mindful that G-Dawg was possibly quite protective of his testicles, I sought permission for coffee refills. We seemed to have the time, although the Colossus wondered if they needed to prepare the well-versed “we had a puncture” card (again) in case we didn’t make it back as scheduled. I’m just guessing, but I think neither of them have any interest in seeing any further development of puncture-less, solid tyres.

“Anyone out tomorrow?” OGL enquired and his face fell when Captain Black stuck up a mitt. “I hope you stay off the front, then.”

That, I decided, is as much a compliment and a badge of honour as any of us are ever likely to receive.


It had started to rain as we sat in the café, blathering about nothing in particular and it would continue at various intensities all the way home. At least we’d enjoyed a dry morning, but I was pretty much soaked through by the time I reached the final roundabout.

On the solo portion of my ride back, I’d been entertained watching the beads of rain that would collect on my cap peak and roll backwards and forwards a few times before dripping down, but now was distracted by the unearthly shriek of disk brakes as another cyclist pulled up alongside me.

“It was dry when I left this morning,” I complained, after exchanging greetings with the equally wet and bedraggled looking rider.

“Oh, it was raining when I started,” he replied cheerfully, before weaving undaunted through the traffic and away, while I turned for one more assault of the Heinous Hill and a pressing and very welcome appointment with a hot shower.


YTD Totals: 1,960 km / 1,218 miles with 22,390 metres of climbing

 

 

Frozen Freewheelin’ Fun

Frozen Freewheelin’ Fun

Club Run, Saturday 9th December, 2017                

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  99 km / 62 miles with 1,021 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 18 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.1 km/h

Group size:                                         17 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    2°C

Weather in a word or two:          Cold


 

9 december
Ride Profile

Just before we start – a public service announcement: A few weeks ago, I bought a USB rechargeable rear light from VeloChampion – works great by the way – and along with my order they sent me a complimentary set of tyre levers. They looked the business and they’re always useful to have, I tucked them into my backpack and promptly forgot about them.

Then last week, in the dark and freezing cold of my commute home I punctured. I took the wheel off the bike, worked the tyre loose, all the way around the rim, popped one of the VeloChampion levers into the gap, leant a little weight onto it and … quite deftly and without whole heap of effort, snapped the tip off the lever.

I tried the second lever. Same result. I didn’t even bother with the third, reaching instead for an old pair of cheap, tyre levers from Halfords, or Poundland or some other less celebrated retailer. They worked as reliably as ever and I was soon underway again.


vc


I offer this precautionary tale simply as a warning – if these had been the only tyre levers I’d been carrying I could have been stuck. If I’d been alone, out in the wilds of who knows where, it could have been even worse. I don’t know if I simply received a duff batch, but, if you’ve been gifted a set of VeloChampion tyre levers, or even worse, been tempted by their website proudly declaring: “Don’t be fooled by cheaper plastic levers! These are heavy duty Nylon levers” and paid good money for some, it might be best you check they don’t disintegrate before you head out onto the roads.

Laid low with a chest infection, I’d missed last Saturday’s ride, which was remarkable as G-Dawg reconnoitred the entire route by car the day before, just to ensure everywhere was as ice free and as safe as could be expected. That’s going well beyond the call of duty and smacks of a degree of professionalism that is a long way from our usual ramshackle organisation.

I was anxious not to miss another Saturday and spent most of the week keeping a wary eye on Storm Caroline as it developed out in the Atlantic and tracked steadily toward the British Isles. Come Friday, it looked like the North East was going to miss the worst of any snow, but temperatures were going to be as depressed as a Morrisey song cycle, threatening to drop below -4°C overnight. This would normally guarantee icy roads enough to give any right-minded cyclist pause, but although cold, the weather had been unusually dry and it looked like we would get away with it.

I doubled up on baselayers, gloves, socks, shorts and tights, pulled a gilet over my winter jacket, wrapped my face in a buff and hoped for the best.

At the bottom of the Heinous Hill I scattered a squabbling, squawking, squadron of seagulls, that had been swarming over some discarded takeaway and they swirled into the air like a raucous, feathered tornado. Did that mean the weather was especially bad out on the coast, or were they just opportunistic scavengers?

Down toward the river, my digital checkpoint read 8:19 and 0°C – hey, things were picking up already! Over the bridge, I turned east again, riding toward the sun that was just starting to lumber up over the horizon. A bright, burnished copper penny, it suffused the sky with a pleasant, warm apricot glow that was, quite simply a blatant lie. It was freezing and my toes and thumbs turned slowly numb before, even more slowly, feeling started to return.

At the meeting point I had difficulty recognising each new arrival, everyone was bundled into bulky clothing, with faces obscured by scarves and buffs and hats and we looked like the ragtag remnants of the 6th Army fleeing Stalingrad.


Main topics of conversation at the Meeting Point:

The Garrulous Kid finally completed his self-appointed mission of asking every single club member at least three times if they watched I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. Every time he asked, he got the same response: – I don’t watch it and its rubbish – but still he persisted. I felt his head was going to explode with frustration, until he lucked onto a new gambit and started asking everyone if they were looking forward to the World Cup. At least with this new obsession he managed to find a handful willing to talk football with him and he’s got until at least until June next year to make sure he’s canvassed everyone’s opinion. At least half a dozen times.

Richard of Flanders arrived on his winter/commuter bike, complete with pannier rack that he explained wasn’t worth the effort of removing for the club run. I felt that ideally he should have slung a bag of sand over the back to help with rear wheel traction on the ice and snow. Maybe next time?

It was perhaps not the dumbest suggestion as he admitted dissatisfaction with the grip he was getting from his Continental Gatorskins – pretty much the same reason I gave up on them and switched to Schwalbe Durano’s a couple of years ago.

Seeking tyre advice from a dozen or so cyclists naturally led to more than a dozen different opinions – with Richard appearing to be leaning toward Schwalbe Marathon’s – super tough, with great protection, but if you do ever puncture, good luck seating that tyre back on the rim.

The Cow Ranger suggested the Schwalbe Marathon was the only tyre whose value appreciated the more miles you did on it. He felt you could even command a premium price for second-hand one after 4 or 5,000 miles of solid use, if there was just the tiniest, incremental bit of give in the wire bead.

Richard of Flanders had volunteered to lead the ride, but given the freezing conditions and unknown road surfaces, simply stuck with last week’s winning formula and the route that G-Dawg had devised and thoroughly reconnoitred. Everyone bought in and we were good to go.

There was still time though for a horrified G-Dawg to recoil from the sight of the Garrulous Kid’s filthy chain, that looked like it had recently been dredged up from deep within the Brea Tar Pits. The Garrulous Kid was adamant he cleaned his bike “regularly” and I guess once every 18 months does actually classify as regularly. His paltry and wholly unacceptable excuse this week … he’d run out of oil and now Steel’s, his LBS had closed, he didn’t have anywhere to buy more.

Meanwhile the Colossus expounded on the frighteningly corrosive qualities of citrus degreaser, which he likened to Alien blood, equally capable of quickly dissolving the nickel plating of your bike chain as eating its way through the deck of the space-freighter Nostromo.

With everyone keen not to hang around too long and start to chill in the freezing conditions, Richard of Flanders called us to order bang on 9.15 GMT (Garmin Muppet Time) and, a much bigger group than I expected, 14 hardy souls pushed off, clipped in and set out.

With impeccable timing, a flying Benedict tagged onto the back just as we swept onto the main road and a bit further on we picked up Two Trousers and Ironman, the Antipodean erstwhile FNG. Our numbers now swelled to a very respectable Heaven 17.


Dropping to the back alongside OGL, we had a chat about the dark enigma that is cycling club membership, the even darker, omerta-protected, murky-mystery of cycling club finances and the stunningly obtuse, impenetrable conundrum of cycling club governance. There was to be no Damescene revelation for me though and I’m still none the wiser.

Although bitterly cold, there seemed little ice to worry about and the only potential threat occurred when one young acolyte braked a little too sharply, overcome with religious fervour as we approached the Holiest of Holy shrines, the Gate … no sorry The Gate – the Blessed and Most Anointed Gate.

Successfully anointed in golden tribute, we shuffled the pack and trundled on once more.


cap1


I found myself riding beside Taffy Steve who complained the freewheel on his thrice-cursed winter bike seemed to be slipping and felt he’d have to take his wheels in for yet another visit to his LBS. His wheels have apparently spent more time in the workshop than actually on his bike.

As a group we hammered up the Quarry, swung right at the top and pressed on for the café. On the final stretch of road, we were all barrelling along together, waiting for moment when Taffy Steve rode up the outside, insulted someone’s manliness, and launched a hopeless attack off the front. It never happened though, everything was quiet and strangely civilized as we rolled down and through the Snake Bends without any overt outbreak of hostilities.

A bit of gravel surfing through the café car park even got me to the front of the queue and I’d been served and seated before word filtered through that Taffy Steve’s freehub had quit on him out on the road and no matter how furiously he pedalled he was going nowhere.

Aether and OGL had stopped to help out Taffy Steve, but with nothing to be done, finally it was left to Aether to push a freewheelin’ Taffy Steve to the café where he could phone home for pickup. I think that was the warmest and the most work Aether had done all day.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:

I was telling the table the exact same thing had happened to me a few winters ago, when my freehub stopped engaging and it was probably in much the same spot. While staring futilely at the wheel, unreasonably willing it to start working again, a couple of old timers had ridden past and asked what the issue was. They helpfully suggested a sharp blow to the freehub could sometimes fix the problem, or failing that they suggested peeing on it!

“Did it work?” G-Dawg enquired.

“No, but it probably made him feel better,” The Colossus answered for me.

Benedict then conjured up an image of me thrashing my bike with a leafy branch, Basil Fawlty style and I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what I felt like doing at the time and yes, it probably would have made me feel a whole lot better.

I checked up on the insulating properties of facial hair with the Colossus, who reported the main benefit of a beard wasn’t its protective qualities, but like nature’s Velcro, it was brilliant for holding his buff in place.

Meanwhile, Taffy Steve found the Missus was out, Christmas shopping in that Monument to Mammon, the Metro Centre, actually closer to my home than Taffy Steve’s idyllic coastal retreat. To make matters worse, she was in the small car and there was definitely no room for him and his ailing, thrice-cursed winter bike, even if she broke off from her shopping trip.

It was looking like an expensive taxi ride home, when Sneaky Pete volunteered to ride back to town, pick up his car and then return for Taffy Steve. What a what a hero, what a star, what a gent … Sneaky Pete Saves the Day!

Complimenting the Ironman on his smart, Trek winter bike, he revealed he’d bought it for a bargain price off fleaBay and from someone down south (i.e. somewhere in the wildlands beyond Washington). He told us how he’d negotiated the handover to take place in a supermarket car park, midway between his home and the sellers and he’d then gone to great lengths to describe the exact colour and type of car he’d be driving, what he looked like and what he’d be wearing on the day.

“And?…” he’d politely enquired of the seller, expecting her to reciprocate and provide him with a description he could use to easily spot her in a crowd.

“Oh,” she replied, “I’ll be the one holding a bike.”

“Dammit!” G-Dawg exclaimed, inadvertently catching the Garrulous Kid’s eye, “Don’t look, don’t look … No, too late, he’s coming over…”

Up sauntered the Garrulous Kid and we learned about the tragedy that has befallen his iPhone which he’d dropped and broken, forcing him to take his less portable, generally unwearable iPad with him to the gym. We naturally couldn’t resist wondering how that worked, whether he carried it in a safety harness around his chest like a parent with a baby carrier, or maybe in a backpack, or was it merely wrapped to the side of his head with long lengths of gaffer tape.

His rambles then degenerated into random stories about his schoolmates buying chickens, how cyclists (still) can’t possibly do chin-ups, osmosis, how various club members look like people they in no way, shape or form resemble and how finding oil for a bike chain was such a very, very difficult thing to do.

Halfway through this unbridled, verbal outpouring, Caracol, whose table the Garrulous Kid had originally come from, wandered past in search of a coffee refill.

“Did you encourage him to move seats?” G-Dawg demanded to know.

A smug, smiling, Caracol defended his actions, baldly stating that his table had done their twenty minutes and it was only fair someone else had a turn.


Gathering in the car park before setting off, Caracol then declared that all stones started out exactly the same size and shape, and it was only the process of erosion over millions and millions of years that led to the immense, almost infinite variety of forms we see today. Now, this sounded like sound scientific fact to me, but oddly we couldn’t persuade the Garrulous Kid it was true.

It was still early-ish, so a group of us decided on a longer route home and we followed as the Cow Ranger and Colossus set a high tempo over the hilly first part. I then pushed onto the front with G-Dawg, who was adamant the day was warming up and talked about stopping to unpeel a few layers, even as the sun appeared to have reached a particularly unimpressive zenith and was starting to slowly sink again.

Still, I made it home before dark and in decent shape. Let’s see what next week brings


YTD Totals: 7,118 km / 4,423 miles with 81,875 metres of climbing

 

SLJ’s Tips for Winter Riding

I’m not alone within our club in wanting to continue to ride throughout the year, and some of our best and most enjoyable club runs take place against the typical backdrop of winter in the sometimes inhospitable far North East of England – in other words freezing cold, soaking wet and impossibly windy.

There’s something about being out with a smaller, select group of foolhardy mates and battling everything Mother Nature has to throw at you. In one sense, the worse the weather is, the more challenging the ride becomes and the greater the sense of personal achievement. On top of this the difference in form and fitness between those who ride and those who hibernate until the Spring is always quite marked.

Oh and as an added benefit, the queues in the café are generally much, much shorter in winter too.

Winter rides actually give us some of the best the weather has to offer, crisp, clear winter days under sparkling blue skies. There is of course also a fair share of rain, drizzle, sleet, hail and snow, gales and gusts of wind, frost and deadly ice and filthy-dirty, hacky-mucky, muddy-clarty road surfaces, liberally dotted with craters, crevasses, splits and fissures, pools, puddles, swamps and lagoons of freezing cold rainwater.

There’s lots of websites offering tips on winter riding, although I don’t think any of them have ever changed what I do, so I guess a lot of what they purport to teach you is just common sense and a bit of a waste of time.

Anyway, no one ever accused me of originality, so for what it’s worth here’s my one one-hundred-and-twentieth of a pound and hopefully, 1 or 2 tips that actually make it beyond the: “Yeah, so what, tell me something new” filter.

Dress the Part

Make sure your extremities are well covered – feet, fingers and ears are the bits of me that suffer the worst, so they’re the bits I pay most attention to.

Invest in a good pair of socks. Apparently the trick here is not to pile on so many layers that you have to squeeze your feet into your shoes, restricting blood flow and actually making things worse.

My own personal favourites are Prendas Thermolite socks, which I’d heartily recommend, even if I always think Thermolite sounds like some kind of extremely dangerous and volatile explosive.

Thermolite fibres, I’m continually being told, mimic “polar bear fur” and you’ve never seen a polar bear shiver have you? That’s because they wear Thermolite socks their fur is hollow and provides excellent insulation – and so apparently are Thermolite fibres.


polar-bear-socks
“Aha! Excellent – Thermolite socks, my feet are bloody freezing.”

Of course socks actually made of polar bear fur would ultimately be the best, but good luck trying to shear one of those suckers. (Now there’s a challenge for Rapha, and something that might actually justify their elitist pricing policies).

I’ve tried other Thermolite socks (Agu do a relatively cheap pair via Planet X) but haven’t found any that are near as good, but your mileage may vary. The best thing about the Prendas ones are that they retain their warmth even when wet through – something that seemed to be a worrying trend last year as we saw extensive flooding and forged through some impressively deep puddles.

In extremis, a thin pair of over-socks, or Belgian booties worn over your shoes, but under neoprene, waterproof shoe covers can provide an additional bit of insulation. It’s even a simple enough task to make your own Belgian booties from an old pair of socks, just remember to cut a hole in the bottom to accommodate your cleats!

It has the benefit of giving you something else to do with old socks, once you’ve had your fill of sock puppets and if you’re wearing them under overshoes, Auntie Vera will never know her hideous, unwelcome Christmas gifts have been cruelly desecrated to fuel your cycling obsession.

Up top, I find wearing a hat under my helmet a little too warm, so wear a headband that covers my ears, but leaves the rest of my head uncovered for ventilation. Of course I’ll admit the drawback is it makes me look like sad disco diva from the 80’s (I’ll admit I can be a bit of a diva, but disco? Never!) Still, I feel it’s a small price to pay for toasty ears.

In heavy rain, a cycling cap worn under the helmet also works well, the peak will divert a lot of the road spray out of your eyes and it can also be useful to combat a low winter sun.

I have various different weights of glove depending on the temperature outside. Mightiest of all are some “Mr. Krabs” lobster mitts that look utterly ridiculous, but are the warmest I’ve found yet and, again keep their insulating properties even when completely waterlogged.

For less extreme days I choose the gloves to suit, often paired with a thin pair of silk glove liners that can be worn for added warmth, or quickly pulled off and tucked away in a back pocket. The glove liners were only a couple of quid on eBay and well worth the price. They were however dispatched from China seemingly by an over-worked, under-nourished, asthmatic carrier pigeon, so are probably best ordered before July if you want to wear them through the winter months.

A few club-mates have taken to carrying a spare pair of gloves so they can swap them out if the originals get soaked through. This certainly beats the singed-wool and wet-dog smell of gloves steaming on the fireplace at the café, or the utter horror and impossibility of trying to pull cold, wet gloves back on after they’ve been abandoned in a sodden, muddy heap on the floor.

A buff or tube scarf is another useful, inexpensive article – (I’ve seen it referred to as a neck gaiter in some quarters – please don’t use this term I always read it as goitre and it makes me feel very queasy.) Anyway, this is supremely practical to plug the gap between collar and neck, or it can be worn as a head covering, or pulled up to cover your chin, mouth, nose or lower face (if you’re feeling particularly bad ass and gangsta).


neck
Neck gaiter, good … neck goitre bad

It’s also supremely useful just to wipe sweat, dirt and accumulated crud from your face, hands, specs, or even your bike.

In direct contravention of Velominati Rule # 34, I use MTB pedals and shoes on my winter bike. The recessed cleat gives you at least a fighting chance if you need to push or carry your bike over any distance.

For example, just last year we had to clamber over walls and trek through the thick undergrowth of a wood when a felled tree blocked the road and a ride which ended in a snowstorm saw me pushing the bike uphill on the pavement as the only way to avoid the cars sliding sideways down the road toward me. Both these incidents would have been infinitely more difficult to cope with in my road shoes with their big plastic cleats and super-stiff soles.

Of course there’s a bit more expense involved if you need to buy both MTB shoes and road shoes, but decent MTB shoes are relatively cheap, last forever and save you destroying your best, carbon-soled racing slippers by riding them throughout the winter.

A few riders in our club use dedicated, waterproof winter boots rather than overshoes. This also might seem like an expensive option, until you consider the fact that overshoes tend not to last much beyond a year and are in almost constant need of replacing. I would imagine the investment in a dedicated pair of winter boots would not only keep your feet warmer and drier, but pay for themselves in the long run. Hopefully I’ll soon find out, I’ve added a pair to my Christmas list.

Of course, if any water does get in to these boots, it tends to stay there, which is what happened to Crazy Legs on one of the more extreme, rain-swept Wooler Wheel sportive rides. He eventually had to stop to take his boots off and pour out all the accumulated water, which I guess was a better option than a developing a severe case of trench foot.

I also use a range of good base layers of varying thickness and insulating properties and have even been known to wear two at a time. For the extreme cold a thick merino version has yet to be bettered.

My go to winter jacket is my Galibier Mistral, which is at least water-resistant if not downright waterproof. If it’s looking like a lot of rain, I usually put a waterproof over the top of this jacket. I’ve just bought a heavier Santini “Rain” jacket for just this purpose, and I’m reasonably confident I’ll get a chance to field test it very soon.

On the legs, tights or legwarmers made of that Roubaix fabric with the brushed back always seem a reliable choice. I quite like tights without a pad so they can be worn over shorts. This provides a bit more protection to the thighs through the double layer of shorts and tights. It’s also useful because I have half a dozen or more pairs of shorts, but only 3 or 4 pairs of tights. I can wear the same leggings for all my weekly rides by simply changing the shorts underneath for a clean pair everyday.

Some people suggest tights with a bib can serve better to keep your lower torso a little more protected and warm, but I can’t honestly say I’ve ever noticed that much of a difference, although they do as a rule seem more comfortable for longer rides.

I use a pair of “waterproof” tights for commuting, but haven’t found them particularly effective and faced with a downpour I’m more likely to take a spare pair of shorts in my backpack so I have something dry for the ride home, even if the tights have become soaked through and don’t dry off in time.

The Ride

Winter means winter bikes for those that can afford them, or more precisely those who’ve been riding long enough to have bought a better bike and consigned their original steed to winter hack duties.

In some ways a true winter bike is more interesting, unique, more colourful and will have more character and more anecdotes attached to it than your more refined, “best bike.” Many will have long and varied back-story and an uncertain pedigree and provenance.

The incomparable, always entertaining Doc Hutch, writing in Cycling Weekly suggests, “a true winter bike is the one that just coalesces in a corner of the garage. Long forgotten and usually deeply-flawed components quietly gather themselves together until one day you find there are enough to build a bike. It’ll be a bike like no one else’s.”

He goes on to suggest, “It will be uncomfortable and it will rattle, but it will be yours in a way your summer carbon wonder-bike never will be. You will hate it, of course you will. But you’ll love it too.”

And here I think is the nub of the issue. The more you hate your winter bike, the less likely you are to ride it and given our long winters and poor weather is likely to last at least a quarter of the year, that’s a whole lot of riding to miss out on.

Even Taffy Steve can just about tolerate his thrice-cursed winter bike, although maybe he just tolerates it in order to keep his titanium love-child safe from harm and to build the anticipation of returning to it once the weather improves.

At worst then, I feel you need to lavish enough care, attention and unfortunately money on your winter bike to at least make it a neutral if not total pleasurable riding experience, even if it’s too unlovely to fully embrace.

The bare essentials I would insist on are a decent, tried and tested, comfortable saddle, full mudguards and winter specific tyres.

A few personal pointers:

Valve caps. You know those useless, little bits of plastic that the Velominati rules declare as useless and never to be used? How unseemly an impact do they have on how your bike looks? How much additional weight and drag do they add? How much quicker can you repair a flat without having to remove them? The answer to all these questions should of course contain the word “negligible” and you’ll find they’re actually a very valuable and useful asset in winter.

Without them the valves can become encrusted in salt and mud and crud, and almost impossible to open without resorting to mole grips or pliers, or in desperation teeth. Not a good place to be if you need to add (or remove) a little air from your tyres.

Similarly, it’s a good idea to drop your wheels out of the bike regularly when cleaning, just to check your quick release or wheel bolts haven’t seized solid. Bad enough to give your own personal spanner-monkey fits at home, but an absolute nightmare if you puncture in the middle of nowhere and can’t get the wheel out to change the tyre.

Our Glorious Leader even suggests that you occasionally remove, lube and replace your brake callipers, as he’s finding more and more bikes coming into his workshop with the brake fittings seized into the frame.

It’s worth buying spare brake pads so you have a set “in stock” ready at any time. The winter seems particularly harsh, chewing through them with great relish, often accompanied by that awful, gritty, grinding noise, that seems to signify your rims being ground to fine aluminium space dust before your eyes.

Your braking is likely to be compromised anyway by the fact that you’re on a heavier bike, with less effective equipment and often in wet and slippery conditions. That’s bad enough to contend with before you throw badly worn brake blocks into the mix.

Mudguards are often seen to be more trouble than they’re worth, ruining the aesthetic look of your bike and constantly and irritatingly rubbing and squeaking. But they’re worth putting up with for the benefits they can bring, most especially to anyone else you’re riding with.

Again, Doc Hutch through the auspices of Cycling Weekly suggests, “anyone whose winter bike doesn’t feature mudguards is both a fool and a blackguard.”

He adds that, “the carefree joy of guard-free riding is further enhanced while riding in a group, where the pressure hose of crap coming off the back wheel of the rider in front means you can pass the subsequent winter evening in front of the fire gently exfoliating your eyeballs every time you blink.”

As with all things winter bike related, I think the trick is to actually embrace them, rather than fit them grudgingly. Then again, once you’ve experienced the difference mudguards can make to your posterior, feet, bike, laundry and the disposition of your fellow riders after a wet, chilly ride, you’ll never go back. An asssaver might look hardcore, but it’s ridiculously ineffective in comparison to full length mudguards.

Really there’s no excuse for not using guards, given the wide variety of choice and fitting systems available – there must surely be a solution for every bike out there. My own advice would be:

Make them as wide as your frame will allow so you have the option for wider winter tyres and there’s less chance of them rubbing and driving you slowly crazy.

If they do start to rub, don’t try and adjust them on the fly. I tried to do this riding up a hill and caught my hand in the front wheel, getting a vicious, stinging slap for my stupidity, and very bruised, lacerated, bent and sore fingers too. It was a minor miracle I didn’t fall off to fully compound my idiocy.

Make your mudguards as long as possible. I recently laughed at Son of G-Dawg for wearing a full-facial mud pack which I was convinced wouldn’t help his complexion in the slightest. I was surprised when he told me it was the result of riding behind me, despite my standard issue long mudguards. I’ve since added additional mud flaps and have people squabbling to get on my back wheel now, knowing they’re going to be well shielded from spray and crud.

You can of course make your own mud flaps and I particularly like those homemade ones where you can still see the provenance of the plastic used – bright blue with a big label reading Domestos or the like.


mudflaps
Either one will work, but I particularly like the mudflap made from a bottle of honey as featured on Sheldon Brown’s website

For the lazy and cack-handed (like me) however there are store bought solutions readily available. I bought a front and back set from RAW that were a doddle to fit and I’m hugely pleased with. As well as adding additional protection for riders behind, I’m surprised how much drier the front one keeps my feet.

RAW also do mudflaps in a whole host of different colours and designs. These not so humble flaps can even be customised with your club colours and logo, although I’m already on record as declaring such frivolities as exceedingly gauche.

A few of my clubmates switch to fixies or single-gear when the weather gets really brutal, with the obvious benefits that there’s so much less to clean and maintain and fewer things that can go wrong. There’s also an appealing simplicity to riding a bike without gears.

I haven’t tried a club run on my single-speed yet, but perhaps with some heavier tyres I might give it a go, although I suggest it’ll probably be the end of me.

It’s worth investing in a decent set of winter tyres, even if it means more weight and rolling resistance. Fixing a filthy tyre in the freezing rain has no known positives, so the more you can do to avoid this scenario the better.

As far as tyres go, fatter seem to be better, offering more grip and a more comfortable ride at lower pressures. I’ve ridden Continental Gatorskins in the past but switched to Schwalbe Durano Plus to try and find a bit more grip without sacrificing too much puncture resistance. Others swear by Continental Four Seasons or Schwalbe Marathon’s.

I’m semi-tempted to try Schwalbe Marathon tyres once my current ones are past their shelf-life, although I’m somewhat leery of them too, as they are notoriously difficult to mount and I have the upper body strength of an anorexic, prepubescent girl, coupled to a grip akin to what your Grandad’s aged and massive Y-fronts exert through their perished elastic.

I’m also a little put-off by the fact that their advocates constantly refer to them through the much over-used term “bombproof” – a phrase evidently employed by people much given to hyperbole and possessing a very poor understanding of the destructive powers of explosive ordnance.

Some winter hazards to watch out for:

Cross winds and unexpected gaps in hedges – the two simply don’t mix. Beware the sudden gust that can scatter a group of well-organised cyclists like a bowling ball smacking the king pin full force.

Ice, ice baby. Ice is about the only thing that will keep large numbers of our group indoors, turning grip and traction into a lottery. Crazy Legs has a patented pre-ride ice test involving running out into the street in his slippers and taking a running jump into the nearest puddle. If he lands with a momentous splash and drenches himself in frigid water, all well and good. If he skids across the surface of the puddle and falls on his arse, it’s probably too cold to ride.

If you do think the roads are likely to be icy, its best to try and stick to main, bus routes which have a greater chance of being gritted. You should also be particularly wary of ice lingering in the shadows at the side of the road, even on the brightest of winter days. It goes without saying that any hazards when wet – white lines, fallen leaves, gratings and manhole covers, are likely to be even more hazardous when icy.

Experience has also taught us that, if you stop to help push a car out of a ditch after it’s skidded across the road on black ice, it’s probably best to assume that the road will be equally as unforgiving to cyclists (and most especially to Dabman’s brittle bones) and it’s probably best to turn around and find a different route.

Thorns. Farmers seem to take great delight in hacking back their hedges at this time of the year and liberally scattering the roads with their cuttings and numerous unavoidable, steel-tipped, mega-thorns. These are probably the cause of more punctures in our group than all the glass, flints and pinch flats combined. I haven’t yet found a tyre they can’t defeat and can’t see how they can be avoided. The best you can do is be aware and be prepared for the worst.

Finally, beware assorted toffs, often found milling aimlessly around in the middle of the road in winter – often in tweed and silly hats, occasionally carrying firearms and invariably accompanied by packs of barely-trained quadrupeds. They’re generally very jolly, but it’s best not to startle them too much, or get in their way.

So, there you have it all the encouragement and advice needed to keep you riding though the winter and the worst of the weather, it beats another torture session on the turbo every time.