Saturday promised to be a most splendid day for piloting a bike around a suitably sunny and bucolic Northumberland and, with the SLJ household all out and about, I had the entire day free and absolutely no impetus to return at a set time.
Given the good weather and the near certainty that the cafe at Kirkley would be open, Crazy Legs suggested it was a good opportunity for a belated-club rendezvous and catch up, which he pencilled in for 10.30 onward, all riders welcome.
Small groups agreed to form up at the regular place and at the regular time to ride out together, with the intention of arriving at Kirkley for the 10.30 meet, while I changed my intended route to put me within what I hoped would be striking distance of the cafe for about the right time.
I was a bit delayed by dithering, but finally got out the house at about half eight, crossing the river at Newburn and climbing out the other side of the valley toward Throckley.
Here I passed a bloke on the other side of the road out walking the family pets, or perhaps, pet in the singular? It was either three individual, but perfectly matched, large, black pedigree dogs, walking in perfect lockstep, bodies pressed so tightly together they merged into one long, expanse of glossy sable fur and muscle, three identical pink tongues all lolling out the right hand side of three identical jaws – or I’d just passed Cerberus, the three-headed, canine gate-keeper of Hades!
Well, Throckley is quite a strange place, so I didn’t immediately discount this as some sort of mythological encounter.
From there, I unsuccessfully tried to find a route through the labyrinthine streets of Heddon-on-the-Wall and out the other side. Apparently I was attempting the impossible and had to back-track to pick up the road again, to travel around, rather than through the village.
Finally free, I pushed on to Horsley, before dropping back down into the valley at Ovingham, noting it was now the turn of dozens of bright yellow buttercups along the river bank to mark the flow of days on my (strictly amateur) flower almanac.
I was briefly joined in appreciation of this floral display by a small, black-tailed ferret, that wandered out into the road, belatedly noticed me and, as most wildlife seems capable of doing, instantly disappeared without trace. That’s the kind of trick that makes you immediately doubt it was ever there.
I followed the river almost as far as Corbridge, taking the Aydon road to vault me safely up and over the A69 and from there pushed my way on to Matfen.
As I approached the village it was ten past ten and the signs told me I was 10 miles from Ponteland. This was going to be a hell of a time-trial if I wanted to get to Kirkley, a few mile beyond Ponteland, by half past.
I got down into the drops and picked up the pace, swerving around the massive, bloody cadaver of a badger, splayed over the road as if one of Ridley Scott’s aliens had burst out of its chest cavity. I was pleased to be travelling fast enough not to see some of the more gruesome details and be well down the road and past the rotting stink before it really registered.
Like several of the roads around here, the route from Matfen through to Stamfordham has a brand new surface. This would normally be the cause for rejoicing, but the new surface feels rough, grippy and heavy. The combination of the bright sunlight and my sunglasses also seemed to give it a rather disconcerting, blue-metallic sheen, as if coated in a thin layer of oil.
Through Stamfordham, then Dalton and back to more normal roads, I hit the long, straight, relatively smooth and slightly downhill passage of Limestone Lane and picked up the pace, watching my speed creep up … 25.6 mph … 27.4 mph … 29.8 mph … no matter how hard I pushed I couldn’t break the 30 mph barrier …
… And I needn’t have bothered.
At the end of Limestone Lane I ran abruptly into some temporary traffic lights that held me for what seemed like five or six minutes. I could just have pootled along and got there at the exact same time and a lot fresher too.
Finally released by the lights I pushed as hard as I could through Ponteland and out toward Kirkley, but I was tiring rapidly now and it had become hard work.
Still, I made decent time and was soon turning off and threading my way toward richly deserved coffee and cake.
And what a great delight to see so many familiar faces, Crazy Legs and G-Dawg, Jimmy Mac and Plumose Pappus, Aether, Ahlambra and Richard of Flanders were already there and others would trickle in, solo or in small groups – Buster, the Big Yin, our Double Dutch tag-team, Sneaky Pete, Caracol, Red Max, and Mrs. Red Max.
Benedict, the Ticker, Mini Miss, Princess Fiona, Spoons and Front-Wheel Neil made it too, but were late arrivals, having had a few issues after the pedal on Front-Wheel Neil’s new bike unwound and came off still attached to his cleats.
Crazy Legs was in full lament mode with bike issues of his own, complaining something along the lies of “j’aime mon Ribble, mais mon Ribble ne m’aime pas” after discovering an annoying squeak on the much-cossetted Ribble. Stripping it to the bone, he’d carefully cleaned and lubed everything before re-assembling to find the annoying squeak yet persisted.
Halfway through his re-build he’d also found he had to buy a 14mm Allen key to remove the bottom bracket, something we decided was really atypical on bike builds, the type of tool that perhaps only plumbers would have a common use for.
“Nah,” Aether informed us, “Merckx commonly use them.”
“Huh?” G-Dawg, looked confused, if King Ted’s bikes used them, that seemed like a mighty endorsement. “What do they use them for?”
“Mostly on the engine blocks.”
G-Dawg looked even more confused.
“No, no, the cars, Mercs. Mercedes-Benz!”
Crazy Legs was confounded that any Merc owner would ever deign to get there hands grubby doing DIY on their cars, besides, weren’t they meant to self-heal?
I took time out to compliment Plumose Papuss on his lockdown hairstyle, which rather fittingly made him look like a dandelion clock. G-Dawg, who does his own hair (probably with an angle grinder, in much the same way that Desperate Dan shaves with a blowtorch) offered to render assistance, but was very politley rebuffed. Can’t think why, although he did mention a recent episode when the guard slipped and he carved a huge bald tranche across the top of his scalp by mistake, which he said made him look like Tintin.
Sitting in the sun, we enjoyed the usual blather and general congeniality, before people started drifting away.
Not ready for home yet, I took in a loop north, Shilvington, Whalton and Belsay, before heading back. At a pee-stop at the bottom of Berwick Hill I spotted a tiny bird with gold bars on its wings that I think was a Common Firecrest (although they’re obviously not all that common, as I can’t remember ever seeing one before.)
By the time I was climbing the Heinous Hill, I’d topped 70 miles and was satisfyingly weary. Good weather, a good ride and it was great to catch up with everyone. Perhaps there is a faint glimmer at the end of the tunnel after all.
Into week#6 of the lockdown (but who’s counting) and G-Dawg took to social media to celebrate 30 days of quarantine with a link to the Chuck Berry’s classic, “30 Days.”
I immediately added this to my Coronavirus Top 10 playlist, which is coming along quite nicely now:
My Sharona Corona – by The Knack. Crazy Legs’ original, all conquering ear-worm.
Don’t Stand So Close To Me – by The Police, a plaintive paean to maintaining social-distancing.
Isolation – by Joy Division, a breezy little ditty, recorded during one of their more sunny and carefree periods.
Train in Vain – by The Clash, in celebration of all the exercise I’m doing, with no way to show off any (no doubt marginal) gains. I could as easily have picked Clampdown, or Armagideon Time, from the same peerless album/period.
Smells Like Teen Spirit – by Nirvana, for prophetically appropriate lyrics, “I feel stupid and contagious, here we are now, entertain us.” (See also: Thea Gilmore singing on Mainstream about “another kind of war that is raging in our bloodstream.”
Are Friends Electric? – by Tubeway Army, for all the Zwifters amongst us. (I could, of course, have chosen any Taylor Zwift song … (well, if I actually knew any).
You’re A Germ – by Wolf Alice, perhaps a more contemporary song than my original choice, Germ Free Adolescent, by X-Ray Spex.
World Shut Your Mouth – by Julian Cope masterful advice from a former member of the self-proclaimed, Crucial Three. His contemporaries might have contributed “The Disease” – Echo and the Bunnymen, or “Seven Minutes to Midnight” – Wah! Heat (although to be fair, these days it’s probably a lot closer than 7 minutes on the old Doomsday Clock).
Spread The Virus – by Cabaret Voltaire – perhaps what Covid-19 might sound like, if given voice!
30 Days –by Chuck Berry. I’ve got the feeling G-Dawg might soon be cuing up 40 Days, by Slowdive and, I hope I’m wrong, but maybe even looking up some songs by 90 Day Men before this is over.
Any other suggestions?
In the news this week, Mrs. SLJ finished laying waste to our hedges and turned her dauntless topiary skills to the top of my head. If I had to guess, I think the look she was she was aiming for was Action Man circa his flock hair period.
It’s not the best haircut I’ve ever had, but by no means the worst either. Anyway, I think you’ll agree, she did a much better job than Melania…
As a consequence my helmet fits again and feels unimaginably cooler. Just in time, as we head into the weekend with the promise of fine, warm weather.
Even better, I get to wear our new, custom Santini kit for the first time, only a long 10-months after we started the procurement process in June last year!
Again with nothing pre-planned, I found myself crossing the river and climbing out of the valley via Hospital Lane. Having failed to find any sign of a hospital along its length, I concluded it was so called because you’re likely to need emergency care after scrambling up it.
From there I ticked off all the standard tropes of a fairly standard club run, through Ponteland to Limestone Lane, Stamfordham, Matfen and then down the Ryals, all done at a brisk enough pace to have my legs stinging and the breath wheezing in and out of my lungs like a pair of leaky bellows.
The long descent of the Ryal’s left me feeling chilled, so I pulled to a stop beside the war memorial at the bottom and parked myself on the bench there to let the sun warm my bones.
It really was a delightfully peaceful and bucolic scene, the roads empty of traffic and the only sounds were the buzz of fat bees droning through the grass and an almost constant chorus of chirpy, cheerful, chatty birdsong, punctured by the occasional plaintive bleat of newborn lambs.
I managed to stir myself before I got too comfortable, choosing, on the flip of a (mental) coin, to head up through Hallington. I was appalled by the deteriorating road surface here, which was even worse than I recall, but made it through without incident.
It was then our standard route home, through Belsay, Ogle and Kirkley. As I was heading back, everyone else seemed to be heading out into the now positively warm weather and I was passed by a constant stream of other cyclists in singles and in pairs.
I was particularly surprised by how many women cyclists I passed, which is brilliant, but did make me wonder where they usually ride and why we never seem to pass them?
By the time I crested Berwick Hill, I was paying the price for my early exuberance, the legs were heavy and shaky and I was running on empty. The trip home then was, by necessity, a much more sedate affair. By the time I’d dragged myself up the Heinous Hill I’d covered 60-miles, yet perversely thoroughly enjoyed my ride out. It’s fair to say I’m looking forward to a very lazy Sunday, a long lie-in, nothing too strenuous beyond a family walk. And hopefully a chance for a bit of recovery, before it all starts again.
It’s Saturday morning again, so, naturally it’s raining. Again. Heavily. This time however, I’m assured that it is going to stop and the rest of the day should be relatively rain free.
45-minutes later, I’m getting ready to leave and the rain is slowly petering out. Still I take precautions, pulling on a light waterproof jacket and, after a tormented inner dialogue of Hamlet-like intensity, a pair of black socks. These make me feel rather uncomfortable and dirty, but it seems preferable to ruining another pair of white socks with road spray.
Minutes later and I’m more at peace with my choice as my front wheel cuts a bow wave through all the surface water sheeting the Heinous Hill. Socks and shoes are already soaked, but looking none the worse for it.
I’m caught behind the barriers of a level-crossing as two trains trundle past in opposite directions and then passed by two cyclists who I track to the end of the bridge, where they split off left and I head right. They’re both braving the weather sans-rain jacket and I soon stop to follow suit. Things are good, the weather has perked up and I’m almost perfectly dry by the time I pull up at the meeting point.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point
“Are you the cycling group that leaves here at nine?” a breathless feller asked as he pulled up in front of us.
“9:15,” we corrected him. Obviously we were not the droids he was looking for and he scuttled away around the corner to search for who knows what group and who knows where. I’d been there from just before 9 o’clock and I could have re-assured him there been no other groups of cyclists lurking in the area.
The Garrulous Kid came bounding in, flushed with success having secured the grades necessary to get into Aberdeen University. Now he/we only have a couple of rides left before he leaves for an extended Fresher’s week over the border. It seems just moments since he was a gangling, callow, awkward and immature school kid, incapable of taking a left turn smoothly on a bike. Now look at him – a gangling, callow, awkward and immature, soon-to-be student, who is still incapable of taking a left turn smoothly on a bike.
Caracol reported a city-wide street party had spontaneously erupted in Edinburgh when they learned the Garrulous Kid was headed to university in Aberdeen rather than in their fair city. We also speculated on how Biden Fecht might take this news and whether he’d feel honour-bound to resign from his post at the University of Aberdeen
As our maître d’, unofficial meeter-and-greeter and chief pastoral carer, Crazy Legs was once again employed to bring a stray FNG into the fold. This proved to be a guy riding a bike that he claimed was transitioning from city bike, to gravel bike. The revolution had started at the front end with impressively wide-chunky tyres, before petering out with the super-skinny slicks still on the rear. We’re a broad church, with an open and inclusive outlook though, so both rider and transbike were immediately welcomed into our merry throng.
Den Hague had bravely volunteered to plan and lead the ride today and had us set for picking our way along some newish, somewhat pot-holed and distressed looking tracks en route to an assault on the Ryals. Crazy Legs assured the FNG that his bike was probably ideal for the task in hand … well, half of it was anyway.
We then only had time to ponder the unusual, unannounced absence of G-Dawg before we were pushing off, clipping in and riding out.
I dropped onto the back of the first group, where things started to go wrong almost immediately, as we were split by a red light. The light changed to green and Homeboyz and the Big Yin led the chase onto the main road, in pursuit of the front end of the first group.
They barrelled straight over the first round about. Uh-oh, I think we should have turned left at that point. We pressed on and then started to slow and prevaricate as it became apparent we really should have taken that left turn.
We decided to push on regardless, adding in a big dog-leg to our route in order to get back on track. A few miles further up the road, a group of cyclists appeared ahead of us and we were able to tag onto the back. The only thing was, it wasn’t our first group but the second and our numbers had just swelled it to a bloated twenty-plus.
The Big Yin queried if we should over-take and chase down the front group, but I suspected it would cause all kinds of mayhem and so we just sat at the back and enjoyed the ride.
Which we did, until we got to Matfen and a general re-grouping. Homeboyz explained how we ended up at the back of the second group and held his hand up to acknowledge his part in our misadventures.
“I have to admit,” he declared, “It was partly my fault,” he assured Crazy Legs.
“Partly?” I queried.
“Oh, okay, it was fully my fault,” he amended.
We split at this point, some off to the cafe via the Quarry, while the rest pushed on climbing up through Great Whittingham, flirting briefly with the A68 before taking the rough track through Bingfield toward the Ryals.
Then up the Ryals we went. I struggled to find the right gear and wasn’t pushing too hard, but somehow managed a new, fastest time, which was a little unexpected bonus.
A front group had raced away up the climb and they didn’t look back, but the rest of us regrouped in the village of Ryal, before tackling the Quarry. At the top we turned right and started to accelerate toward the cafe.
A small knot pulled away from the front, but I held fire figuring they would slow on the long drag up to Wallridge crossroads and I could try attacking and bridging across then, all the while Crazy Legs drove us on, intent on pulling our splintered group back into one cohesive unit.
I paused to let an approaching car past, then slipped to the outside and gave a kick. The delay for the passing car proved fortuitous as I caught the front group just as they approached the crossroads. I only had to slow momentarily before one of them called that the road was clear. Still carrying more momentum than the group I’d just caught, I eased past and pushed on with what I suspected was a small gap, but it was still a gap.
From behind Den Hague gave chase and pulled the Garrulous Kid along with him. Down the twisting descent, I made it through the junction, still with a slight advantage. Den Hague finally overhauled me on the climb up to the final junction.
Onto the road down to the Snake Bends, he seemed to pause momentarily and I tried to give chase, slowly clawing back some distance. Then the Garrulous Kid thundered away of my wheel and I eased, letting the pair up front fight it out, before once again our group slowly coalesced and we made our way to the cafe.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
We found a perky looking G-Dawg already ensconced at a table in the garden, having decided to wait out the early downpour before taking to the roads. I think he was suffering from the same malady I was last week – rainmalaise.
Crazy Legs suggested if we ever needed a grumpy old man to replace OGL to bitch and kvetch about the weather and massively exaggerate its impact, we’d found the ideal candidate.
Meanwhile, Buster turned up at our table with a Chocolate Rollo tray bake as dense as osmium.
“That looks super-calorific,” Crazy Legs acknowledged admiringly.
“You might even say it’s super-calorific- expialidocious ,” I ventured, but singularly failed to inflict an unwanted ear-worm on Crazy Legs.
I needn’t have worried, minutes later he as talking about the end of season three of Stranger Things and serenading us all with a heartfelt version of Neverending Story.
Talk turned to other TV-Series and we learned that both Buster and Princess Fiona still have two episodes of Killing Eve left to watch and they warned us against issuing any spoilers.
“I’m only just getting over the shock of her husband leaving,” Buster volunteered.
“What! Her husband leaves her?” Princess Fiona demanded.
Oops, there goes the no spoilers alert, looks like someone actually has more than 2 episodes to catch up on.
From TV, it was a short hop to film, with Crazy Legs off to see the new Tarantino movie and still marvelling at how Christoph Waltz made drinking a glass of milk look so threatening and unsettling in Inglourious Basterds.
We discussed a pivotal point early in the film, when a spy in a German bar revealed himself by ordering three drinks the British way, by holding up his his index, middle, and ring finger. Apparently, that’s not how it’s done on the Continent.
“Show us three, with your fingers,” Crazy Legs asked Double Dutch Distaff, who wasn’t really following the conversation. She immediately held up three digits … a thumb, index finger and middle-finger.
Crazy Legs responded with his British version – index, middle finger and ring finger proudly upraised.
She looked totally perplexed, as if he’d just performed some incredibly difficult and strange sleight of hand, before declaring it was just wrong, unnatural and awkward. I sensed we were just moments away from such a gesture being declared retarded.
G-Dawg wandered over to suggest we took a different route home via Whalton as the road for our regular run through Ogle was muddy and “covered in crap.”
Crazy Legs announced the change, but probably could have saved his breath, G-Dawg swung left instead of right out of the cafe and everyone else just seemed to naturally follow.
The Red Max was riding happily alongside Crazy Legs, when he suddenly reprised “Neverending Story.”
“Nah!” the Red Max declared, “I’m not having it, not that song.” He made a show of pulling off to one side and slipping to the back.
I shuffled up and had a chat with Crazy Legs, again touching on the lack of club jersey’s in a group that was still almost twenty-strong.
“We must look like a bunch of masterless Ronin, roaming the countryside, seemingly without purpose,” I mused.
“I’ve always seen us as more of a rowdy, rabble.” Crazy Legs determined. He liked the connotation of rowdy with rodeo’s, suggesting our Wednesday evening drop-rides akin to bronc riding, you just hug on as long as you could before you were inevitably thrown off the back.
A brief reshuffle and I found myself alongside the Red Max. I couldn’t resist and gave him a quick burst of Neverending Story – and it was a quick burst, as I only know that one line from the chorus. Nevertheless, it was more than enough, even before my ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah’s, were complete, the Red Max was swearing like a trooper and dropping out of line again:
“Na! Na! Na! I’m not having it. Na!”
Who’d have thought it. Like kryptonite to Superman, or garlic to vampire’s, we’d discovered that Limahl’s horrid warbling was the Red Max’s Achilles’ heel.
G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid finished their stint on the front and I took over alongside Homeboyz, keeping the pace respectably high as we swung round the airport. As we entered the Mad Mile and most of the group swung away, G-Dawg appeared on my shoulder and we pressed on to the roundabout, where I could slingshot away and start my solo ride back.
YTD Totals: 5,261 km / 3,269 miles with 69,553 metres of climbing
A quick hit before I disappear for a well-deserved (well, in my opinion) holiday on the Costa Blanca…
Saturday was sticky, hot and humid, even under granite coloured skies that promised to live up to the forecast of frequent heavy showers. The air was strangely still and breathless, mirroring the river which was dull, flat and as still as a millpond as I rolled over the bridge.
Last night I’d resorted to some creative bike wrangling to ensure Reg was ready, fully restored and, most importantly back home. I’d ridden into work on the single-speed as usual, but returned via the Brassworks bike workshop at Pedalling Squares, at the bottom of the Heinous Hill. There, I swapped bikes, picking up and paying for the work on the Holdsworth, before riding it home.
I’d then pulled on a pair of trainers, packed my cycling shoes in a rucksack and ran back down the hill to retrieve the single-speed. This was enough to reinforce my long-held belief that biathlon’s and triathlons are the creation of the devil.
Still, it was worth it, the Holdsworth was running true and smooth and as good as new. There’s something reassuring in finding a bike mechanic who’s a perfectionist. Now the potential for rain was about the only thing likely to ruin a good ride.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The sadomasochistic Buster had volunteered for his maiden role of ride leader, devising a route that was replete with just about all of our signature climbs in one neat package; Bell’s Hill, the Mur de Mitford, the Trench, Rothley Crossroads, Berwick Hill and Middleton Bank. I definitely needed any advantage a good bike could bestow.
The Garrulous Kid was just hoping to get to the cafe as fast as possible, so he could retrieve his sun specs, which he’d managed to leave behind the week before. G-Dawg told me they made the Garrulous Kid look like a bad Roy Orbison impersonator and he had visions of some old feller finding them, slapping them on his head and then walking blindly into all the tables and chairs as he tried to locate the exit.
I reassured the Garrulous Kid that I was certain they’d still be there as, from G-Dawg’s description, it didn’t sound like anyone else would actually want them. He then wondered if his water bottle would still be there too, as that was something else he’d forgotten.
I’m trying to see if we can develop an unofficial club jersey that more than two or three people are happy to wear, so had a chat with a few people about this, including Princess Fiona … which was when I realised I hadn’t considered a female option as (apparently) they’re built a bit different. I think this is going to be one of those projects that sounds easy, but the deeper you dig, the more issues you unearth.
A bunch of our riders had submitted themselves to a British Cycling ride leader course last Sunday, to allow them to officially take groups of youngsters out onto the open roads and introduce them to the mystical, mythical, ever-enduring club ride.
The course was an astonishing 8 hours long and preceded by a 3 hour computer test on general road safety and regulations – a hell of a commitment, that still didn’t get us to where we want to be. Apparently, ride leaders also require an up to date, First Aid certificate too – an additional course and between £15-£25 per person and then it’s only valid for 3-years.
Once we have all this in place, we would still only be allowed 8 junior riders for every fully qualified and certified ride leader and to cap it all, British Cycling charged the club £1,000 to run the course, plus the cost of the venue hire.
From talking to the group, many of the principles, guidelines and requirements they learned sounded rather Byzantine and restrictive and, well, a bit of a ball ache to be fair. I’m in no position to judge if the course teaches the best and safest way to lead a group of youngsters onto our undoubtedly dangerous roads, but the cost and time commitments alone seem to actively discourage clubs from doing this. I’m not sure how well this chimes with the mission statement of British Cycling to grow cyclesport?
With such a large group, we split into two and I dropped into the second group. Talk of enacting course leader principles were quickly shelved and we pressed on in our usual ramshackle manner.
I found myself riding alongside Sneaky Pete as we got underway chatting about Canadian singer-songwriters, the TV adaption of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and the right balance between practical colours for a cycling jersey and rider visibility.
I climbed the Mur de Mitford at a fairly relaxed pace and found myself alongside Taffy Steve as we pressed on.
“Ah, the Pigdon Prowler, ” I announced, referring to the Strava segment we now found ourselves traversing. “I wonder where that name came from?”
Taffy Steve agreed it was bizarre, but admitted to being far more interested in the etymology behind a different Strava segment: “Jonny’s Polish Shagfest” – having spend months trying to identify if we had any Jonny’s in the club he could interrogate to try and understand the origin of the Central European Shagfest and what relation it had to cycling.
Next on our list of came the Trench which again we seemed to run at a reasonable pace, before pausing to regroup. Just as we were determining shorter and longer options, our first group clambered up to join us, having been delayed when Caracol inexplicably tried to mate his rampant bike with Rainman’s. The only issue from this most unholy of unions had been a smashed derailleur, which had forced Rainman to abandon and call for the voiture balai to get him safely home.
Crazy Legs urged the front group to keep going at their usual, brisk pace, while the rest of us would trail along behind in our own time. Several defectors though took the opportunity to drop back into the second group, notably Goose and the Big Yin. Good for them, bad for everyone else as it prompted me to unleash my finest nasal, Dylanesque wail; “What’s the point of changing … horses in midstream.”
Having somehow survived my intemperate wailing, we pressed on toward Rothley crossroads, taking the much maligned and hated traditional route, rather than the equally, or even more maligned and hated novel approach that Taffy Steve had recently inflicted on us.
As the gradient bit and the speed dropped, I pushed onto the front alongside Goose to help pace us up and over the cross-roads. We repeated the exercise on Middleton Bank and then started building up the speed for our long run toward the cafe.
Into the final few mile and I attacked on the rollers, just to surprise everyone, figuring they certainly wouldn’t be expecting the move. I then dragged a quite remarkably unstartled, unmoved and unflustered group, who were firmly lodged on my back wheel, up and around the final corner, before swinging aside for the sprinters to burn past.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Although earlier arrivals had all chose to sit inside the cafe, it was so hot and sticky we decide to sit outside in the garden. Zardoz had heard rumblings about a new, alternative jersey.
“Oh, can I have one with my name on it?” he wondered.
“We can all have your name on it,” I assured him.
“Oh, no, I wouldn’t know who I was then,” he deadpanned.
I heard from G-Dawg and Crazy Legs that The Silence had been one of those attending the Ride leaders programme, where, by all accounts he’d remained characteristically tight-lipped and taciturn throughout. I’m not wholly convinced keeping mum is great attribute for a ride leader.
We also learned that he has a near fatal attraction for edging toward the kerb, particularly alarming for anyone caught on his inside. He’d make a deadly sprinter in a bunch finish.
Our brief sojourn in the garden was otherwise uneventful and we left in two or three disparate groups to make our way home. By great good fortune we saw no actual rain, but would periodically encounter soaking wet roads, suggesting we’d only just missed being caught in a fearsome shower or two.
This good fortune held all the way home, completing an unexpectedly dry club run and it wasn’t until I parked up the bike and stepped into the house that the heavens opened up and the rain came stottin’ down.
For once, good timing.
YTD Totals: 4,825 km / 2,998 miles with 64,345 metres of climbing
Time. I just can’t seem to scrape together enough of this elusive, precious resource these days.
— or maybe, I’m just lazy.
Either way, it took me an excruciating 3-weeks to write-up and post about my misadventures in the Alps and all the while weekends kept ticking past. I now realise I’m in danger of losing this blerg’s raison d’etre, the celebration of the venerable club run, with all it’s attendant lurid colour, madness, madcap characters, incessant chatter and mayhem.
I was hoping to report that normal service would now be resumed, but events have conspired against me. More of that later, but first a brief recap of what I’ve missed and what you’ve been spared …
Club Run, Saturday 22nd June : Got a Short, Little, Span of AttentionDistance : 109km Elevation Gain: 1,133 m Riding Time: 4 hours 2 minutes
My first ride back from the Alps, not quite recovered and riding with very heavy legs. The Monkey Butler Boy wore a new pair of shorts complete with a sheer, translucent back panel, which is undoubtedly marketed as being more aero. The Red Max branded them as vaguely obscene and off-putting and insisted the Monkey Butler Boy ride behind him at all times. I wondered if, given this animal-like, ritual display, a change of name to Baboon Butler Boy wasn’t in order.
The Red Max complained the Monkey Butler Boy had stolen his trademark use of selected red highlights, although, to be fair the Red Max has never taken it to the extreme of exposing a big, pimply, scarlet baboon-ass in his quest for colour co-ordination.
At the cafe, talk turned to the upcoming Team Time Trial which Captain Black has somehow found himself press-ganged into riding. Throughout the discussion he kept looking at me with pleading eyes and silently mouthing “Help” and “Save Me” across the table. Sadly, I felt powerless to intervene.
As well as the physical pain and torment of actually riding the event, he may also have to suffer the indignity and mental anguish of donning our most unloved of club jersey’s. Astonishingly, the Cow Ranger declared wearing the club jersey should make you feel ten feet tall and unbeatable.
So, apparently not like a giant box of orange and lime Tic Tacs, then?
Club Run, Saturday 29th June : Topsy TurvyDistance : 122km Elevation Gain: 1,140 m Riding Time: 4 hours 37 minutes
A genius route, planned by Taffy Steve that turned our entire world upside down and shattered all kinds of preconceived notions. He had us riding up to Rothley Crossroads the wrong way, using the route we usually take to get away from the hated junction. It’s hated because we usually get there via a long, leaden drag, on lumpen, heavy roads, not quite steep enough to be called proper climbing, but not flat enough to power up sitting in the saddle.
Guess what? The alternative route is even worse…
Amidst much wailing, moaning and gnashing of teeth, I heard several riders vow they would never, ever, ever complain about our more typical route up to Rothley Crossroads again.
The ride was noteworthy as, perhaps the first time, we’d had a full complement of all four of our current refugees from the Netherlands out at the same time. As Taffy Steve quipped, we had numbers enough to form our own Dutch corner.
At the cafe, budding biological scientist the Garrulous Kid insulted our European compatriots by insisting the metric system was “crap.” He declared what we really needed was a decimal system that was easy to use, adaptable, internationally recognised, universally accepted and simple to pick up and apply. (Yes, I know he just described the metric system, but remember this is in Garrulous Kid World, which is dangerously unhitched from reality.)
Club Run, Saturday 29th June : Great British Bicycle Rides with Philomena Crank Distance : 122km Elevation Gain: 1,140 m Riding Time: 4 hours 37 minutes
My second annual Anti-Cyclone Ride, which has grown from a base of just two participants, Taffy Steve and The Red Max three years ago, to the 2019 edition which reached almost standard club run numbers. Twenty-two of us set out for a route that would occasionally intersect with the Cyclone Sportive, most importantly at a number of feed-stations where copious amounts of cake and coffee could be purchased.
For me, the most notable moment of the day was when my left hand crank slowly unwound from it’s spindle and came off, still attached to my shoe by its cleat. The Goose helped me fit it back on using the pinch bolts, but the crank cap appeared damaged. Still, I managed to make it the rest of the way around our route and right to the bottom of the Heinous Hill, before I felt my foot tracing that weird lemniscate pattern as the crank unwound again.
Bad luck, but reasonable timing, as it happened right outside Pedalling Squares cycling cafe. I was able to call in to their bike workshop, the Brassworks, where Patrick patched me up enough to get the rest of the way up the hill and home.
Later in the week the bike would travel back down to the Brassworks for a proper fix and, as a special treat, top to bottom service. I’ve no idea what was to blame for the unfortunate mechanical, perhaps the bike was damaged in transit after all?
And that’s me pretty much caught up and back on schedule. With Reg still convalescing, I was looking forward to a rare summer club run aboard the Peugeot, my winter bike.
I prepped the bike the night before and things were going well as I crossed the river and started backtracking down the valley. That was when my bottom bracket started to creak and complain.
By the time I started climbing out the other side, the creaking had turned into a full on chorus of complaints, as if a nest full of ever-hungry fledglings had taken up residence in my bottom bracket and were demanding to be fed.
A bit of tinkering gave temporary relief, but it wasn’t long before the hungry birds returned with a vengeance. I reluctantly pulled the pin and aborted the ride, turning back. Even if the bottom bracket had held up mechanically, I couldn’t ride with that cacophony as an accompaniment.
Home by 9.30, too late to join the club, but too early to call it a day, I pulled out my bike of last resort, the single-speed I use for commuting. I bravely and foolishly decided to head due-south, for a few loops around the Silver Hills, where I used to ride as a kid. You’d think I’d know better by now.
My ride profile shows the change, my clearly defined ride of two halves, as I went from relatively benign to brutally bumpy. This included a couple of 4th Category climbs with 25% gradients and lots of ragged, wet and gravel-strewn surfaces. Single-speed vs. Silver Hills is definitely an unequal contest, but I got a decent work-out and, to be honest, I quite enjoyed myself in an odd, masochistic and not-to-be-soon-repeated sort of way.
YTD Totals: 4,651 km / 2,890 miles with 62,397 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 109 km / 68 miles with 1,089 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 10 minutes
Average Speed: 26.1 km/h
Group size: 30 riders, 3 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Hot, hot, hot
Let’s skip a week shall we? The 7th July was another good club run in exceptional and hot weather, but with our Pyrenean misadventures taking up all my inane-wittering bandwidth, it kind of took a backseat.
Who knows, perhaps some day,some completion-obsessed, archivist will uncover this inchoate, hidden gem, tentatively titled “They Swarm” and it will be revealed to the world with huge fanfare* as an unfinished masterpiece to rank alongside Byron’s Don Juan, The Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg, or The Other Side of the Wind.
*I’m thinking maybe “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” played on a lone kazoo.
But for now, let’s put it to bed, US TV style…
Previously on Sur La Jante…
The hottest day we’ve had for years, but we didn’t have to worry as the Red Max had a cunning plan – all we had to do was ride harder and faster, he said and it would generate a beneficial cooling breeze…
It was a good route that picked out a section of newly surfaced road to let us ascend to the village of Ryal without having to tackle the infamous Ryal’s themselves. We didn’t realise that the road had actually been resurfaced with loose gravel, which was the perfect size, weight and composition to constantly get jammed under Taffy Steve’s fork crown, so the ascent became an irregular, stop-start sort of affair.
Not all was lost though, as Aether took the opportunity presented by all the mechanicals to successfully forage in the hedgerows for early blackberries. Luckily the Prof wasn’t with us, or we might still be there, taking advantage of all the free stuff.
Then, in the café garden a thousand and one, tiny black beetles fell in love with G-Dawg’s Molteni jersey (well the orange panels on it anyway) and descended upon him like a biblical plague. It was so bad, he ended up stripping down to his bibshorts, just for a bit of relief.
Stripping off all our tops for the ride home in show of mutual support and solidarity, was mooted, but quickly shot down, perhaps by Princess Fiona, although I couldn’t be sure who objected first.
A fully-clothed, return was then completed without incident and I made my way home having covered 113 km with 1,100 metres of climbing.
So, back to the present. Another fine, hot and sunny day was promised and didn’t disappoint. It was so hot in fact that for the first time in living memory I rode without a base layer of any kind and selected my lightest and theoretically coolest of jerseys.
The bridge at Newburn was still closed to cars, and they’ve taken the chance to resurface it. There is still a gaping hole at the north end where it was washed away though, so hopefully it’ll be a bit longer before it’s fully open again.
Despite the heat, the wind was up, keeping things cool, but also providing noticeable resistance whenever I found myself tackling it head on. Nevertheless, I made decent time across and arrived at the meeting place bang on schedule.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The Garrulous Kid had been traumatised by having to use the Metro during the week, pressed uncomfortably cheek by jowl with the hoi poloi, amidst what he claims was a sustained and unprovoked attack by savage, M&M wielding chavs. They had apparently bombarded his train with the colourful, candy-coated confectionery so ferociously that grown men cowered in their seats and refused to leave the carriages at the station.
Taffy Steve was intrigued and posed the highly critical question we all wanted the answer to, were they hardcore gang-bangers, using peanut M&M’s, or just play-acting kids, wannabe-gangstas, restricting their attack to run-of-the-mill, plain M&M’s?
I think he was positing some kind of escalation in the seriousness of the assault depending upon the type of confectionery being used as ammunition.
This led to an exotic re-imaging of The Untouchables, with Kevin Costner’s Eliott Ness taking instructions from Sean Connery’s old-hand, Jimmy Malone:
“He pullsh a KitKat, you pull a Shnickers bar. He puts one of yoursh in the tuck shop, you put one of hish in the pic ’n’ mix aisle. That’s the Shouth Gosforth way!”
My dad-joke of the week also came from this unlikeliest of sources:
“What time did Sean Connery get to Wimbledon?”
It was so hot, the Garrulous Kid had frozen his bottle overnight, but by the time he reached the meeting point the ice seemed long gone. He picked the bottle up, peered myopically at its contents and gave it a prod with a bony finger.
“All the ice is gone,” he lamented, then, noticing a strange, opaquely white, foreign substance swirling around in the bottom of the bottle … “No, hold on there’s some left at the bottom.”
Goodness knows what he was seeing, but we pointed out that if it was ice, it would be floating – you know, icebergs never drag their feet along the seafloor.
The arrival of long-term absentee, Grover was greeted with a, “Bloody hell, is it that time of the year again?” from Crazy Legs.
“You said that last time,” Grover muttered drolly. Probably true, but it was still funny nonetheless.
It was indeed a day when many of our lesser-spotted luminaries would be tempted out, including the Antipodean Ironman, back from serious injury, the aforementioned Grover and even the Prof, given the day off from his role in a Back Street Boys tribute band, or perhaps lured out by the promise of free fruit just waiting to be picked along all the hedgerows.
Anyway, he would stay with us for, oh, I don’t know, maybe a whole, half an hour, before the collective responsibility of riding in a group began to chafe … and he buggered off without a backward glance.
Add in a smattering of FNG’s and there was about thirty of us altogether and we split into two groups before pushing out. A quick headcount saw the front group outnumbering the second, so I dropped back to the latter and away we went.
The Red Max and Taffy Steve led us from the start and we picked our way through Brunton Lane, where the good weather had encouraged the bushes and hedges into super-abundant, verdant and bucolic over-growth.
“Another couple of weeks of this and there’ll just be a cyclist-shaped hole in a wall of green,” Crazy Legs mused.
We took over on the front as we took the road up past the Cheese Farm, determined to set a perfectly reasonable pace and make it to the top of the hill without any complaints from behind.
Did we make it?
Well, what do you think?
We then stopped before taking a long loop that would see us heading south and generally slightly downhill to Twizzel, before stomping back up into a headwind. This engendered the first group split, with OGL and Grover deciding the loop was generally pointless.
Crazy Legs admitted the detour didn’t do anyone any favours, but I was happy to add a few more miles along previously uncharted roads and anyway, who could possibly resist a visit to a place called Twizzel at least once in a lifetime? Once is probably enough, though.
As we approached Dyke Neuk, I finally recognised the road and, from there it was a straightforward push through Whalton, then Hartburn and on to Middleton Bank. We stopped regularly to check everyone was ok and see if anyone needed a shorter route to the café, but everyone seemed to be holding up.
As we started to climb Middleton Bank, Andeven whirred rapidly and effortlessly away, showing us mere plodders and amateurs how it should be done. Meanwhile I got stuck twiddling too small a gear, too soon and it took me an age to get on top of it. As the ramps slowly steepened and the gears finally bit, I managed to work my way past the rest of the group and follow Crazy Legs catching onto his rear wheel as we went up and over the top.
Crazy Legs looked back, determined no one else was in sight and indicated he was going to drop back to wait. I decided to press on alone, coaxed the chain onto the big ring and started to pick up the pace.
Around the first corner and into some welcome shade from the trees around Bolam Lake, Benedict stormed up behind, called out, “hop on” and went surging past. I accelerated onto his wheel and we were off.
He took a big, long turn and then I spelled him until I could no longer keep the pace high enough and he accelerated onto the front again, leading us through the dip and curves as we arced through Milestone Woods.
As we hit the bottom of the rollers, I noticed a new set of temporary traffic lights half way up the slope had just turned green. Determined not to be caught by an inopportune red light, I came around Benedict and surged upwards. Benedict said he guessed what I was trying to do, but hesitated a micro-second and just missed latching onto my wheel as I hammered up through the lights and over the first couple of crests.
As I jumped out of the saddle to keep the momentum up to tackle the third and final ramp, I looked back, expecting Benedict to be camped on my six, or thereabouts, but there was a sizeable gap between us. I decided just to press on, expecting he would catch up on final scramble up to the café, but suspect he eased once we made the main road and I rolled in imperiously and surprisingly alone.
“Did you ride the full route?” the Garrulous Kid asked, obviously slightly taken aback by the fact that there was clear air between me and everyone else from the second group. Such a disturbing lack of faith…
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
A Woodland Burial site has opened just down the road from the café and OGL has apparently already been eyeing up a plot for the future, thinking it’ll be an ideal spot from which to come back to haunt us every Saturday.
Crazy Legs revealed he still has his Mum’s ashes under the sink and his Dad’s in the garage and doesn’t quite know what to do with them. I unconscionably suggested the latter might be useful if he ever has an icy drive to contend with one winter. The whole topic cued up a number of stories of people trying to dispose of ashes, only to have them blow back in their faces.
On a slightly less morbid note, initial discussions were made about travelling to take in the Tour of Britain in September, in particular stages 5 and 6. The first is an unusual Team Time Trial up Whinlatter Pass from the easier, western side (five kilometres averaging 4%), followed by the following days stage which tackles the climb twice more, but from the eastern side with averages nearer to 7%.
Taffy Steve sat down opposite me and the creaking bench tilted alarmingly and tipped me into his shoulder. I’m not sure this rickety garden furniture is going to last another season.
We applied some Archimedean physics to our problem, Taffy Steve shuffling closer to the pivot point, while I slid along toward the very end of the bench. That worked better, well, at least until one of us decided to stand up suddenly. It didn’t stop Benedict laughing at us and suggesting it was like watching two mismatched kids trying to work a see-saw.
Meanwhile, Crazy Legs expounded on his new Novichok conspiracy theory, by pointing out the two incident locations, Salisbury and Amesbury were, strangely and coincidentally, almost equidistant from the British Chemical and Bacteriological warfare laboratory at Porton Down. The Novichok poisoning was then, either a leak from the government’s own facility, or its proximity was being used by the Russians to cover up their own nefarious “wet-work.”
Taffy Steve determined we deserved a sneaky third coffee and I readily agreed – after all, it was hot and we needed to stay hydrated.
We then had a chuckle at the Colossus who was sitting at the next table alongside the Garrulous Kid and looking extremely glum and fed up with life. We wondered what could possibly be upsetting him so much …
As we made our way home I caught up with Kermit, who thought he had a new bike sorted, a like-for-like replacement offer from his insurance company, after his Focus Cayo didn’t survive its trip back from the Pyrenees. (Or, to be more accurate, its whirlwind tour around Zurich and sundry other European airports.)
He’d been offered a Giant TCR Advanced which seemed like a great deal to me – then again, I’m not the one who has to ride it.
As we started up Berwick Hill our line attenuated and then fragmented and I had great fun slicing and sliding through the wheels, as I climbed from near the back to the front, dropping in behind leaders Crazy Legs and the Colossus as we crested the top.
On the reverse slope, the pair waved us through and I hit the front with Caracol, keeping the pace high all the way through Dinnington and onto the Mad Mile. The Colossus took over again, for this final stretch, before the remains of our group swept left and I peeled off to start my solo ride home.
I could get used to this fine weather.
YTD Totals: 4,251 km / 2,641 miles with 53,264 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 103 km / 74 miles with 781 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 3 hours 59 minutes
Average Speed: 25.8 km/h
Group size: 28 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Chilly and very, very wet
They say a week is a long time in politics, but I have to say it’s even longer in relation to the rapidly plummeting fitness levels of ageing and mediocre club cyclists. I returned from holiday four pounds heavier and over a twelve hundred pounds lighter in the wallet, with nothing to show for it but blurred tan lines and a sharp decline in whatever small measure of cycling ability I possess.
This manifested as a real struggle to commute in and out of work, where I felt slow, weak and generally out of sorts. I tried to ride through it and managed to fit in three days commuting before Saturday and the chance to make up for the two club runs I’d missed.
On the commutes I’d noticed the mornings have a distinct chill to them already and had started to think about digging out some long-fingered gloves. In August? Maybe I’m just getting soft.
Saturday morning wasn’t quite so bad, but this was probably the result of the banks of thick, leaden cloud that had been scrawled heavily across the sky in various shades of grey, by my estimation using 2B to 9B pencils. This cloud cover may have provided some degree of insulation overnight, but totally precluded any chance we’d see the sun today.
Still, the roads were dry and the weather forecasts suggested no rain until mid-afternoon, when we’d hopefully be home and hosed.
I slipped smoothly down the Heinous Hill on a new patch of pristine tarmac and pushed on along the valley floor, immediately butting up against a strong westerly. I was rolling along, minding my own business along a wide, straight and totally empty road, when a small, silver hatchback snarled past, too fast and much too close, in what I can only assume was a deliberate attempt at provocation or intimidation.
I gave the driver my best WTF gesture, which he responded to in kind, which only seemed to suggest the close pass had been deliberate and he was watching to see what sort of reaction he’d get. Dick.
The rest of the ride was thankfully uneventful, but I was delayed by even more roadworks and traffic lights along the route. Nevertheless, when I hit my mark of 8.42 miles covered at 8:41 I knew I was on schedule and eased back.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The Colossus of Roads was there showing off his newly pimped up bike, complete with a new red and shiny chainring to accessorize with all the other red and shiny bling bits: hubs, jockey wheels, quick release skewers, cable ends, bar plugs, seat clamp, gear hanger, headset spacers and the like. To cap it all he’d gone for a gleaming gold chain, which prompted a frankly disapproving OGL to remark that if he took the bike into his shop the first thing he’d do would be to clean the chain because he thought it looked rusty. Let’s just say he seems to have a different aesthetic appreciation than me.
OGL himself was sporting his own “new look” – a sort of scruffy Abe Lincoln-meets-the-Amish with a hint of hill-billy, face fringe with a bare upper lip that reminded me of Mad Willie McDougal, the caretaker at Springfield Elementary School. Crazy Legs wondered aloud if OGL had deliberately cultivated his face fungus in club colours, the mix of ginger and white bristles lacking only a touch of lime to be a perfect match for the white, tangerine and green of the club jersey.
OGL suggested he was considering keeping the face fringe for a function he was attending at a local brewery, when a plan for excess libation could perhaps induce a gangrenous, green tinge to his features to complete the transformation to club colours in their full … err … glory.
The Monkey Butler Boy was at the meeting point, as a precursor to joining up with his new clubmates somewhere en route and took the opportunity to terrify me by flashing his startlingly white, utterly blank and featureless chest, the likes of which I’ve only ever seen on strangely asexual, abstract shop mannequins.
The pristine snowscape of the Monkey Butler Boy’s unblemished upper torso contrasted starkly with the dark brown of his lower limbs, creating some razor-sharp, cyclists tan lines, a badge of honour that he seemed inordinately proud of. So proud, in fact then when joining a new college and being pressed to help come up with a suitable nickname, he’d flashed a half brown-half white bicep and suggested “Tan Lines.” In this way and much to his regret, he’s now been saddled with the unwanted moniker of “Fake Tan.”
(Still, it could have been worse, the last time I saw the Monkey Butler Boy in civvies (or at least his Mother’s jeans!) he was a combination of deep tan, red and raw sunburn and a rather startling ghostly and underexposed white, that looked like nothing so much as a giant Neopolitan ice cream.)
We wondered why Crazy Legs was uncharacteristically quiet, but apparently he was simply mesmerised and in the thrall of the larger than life “Atomic Blonde” movie poster splashed across the entire side of a double-decker bus. Apparently he was having trouble speaking through the puddle of drool that was overflowing from his mouth and dripping noisily onto the pavement. The Garrulous Kid confirmed I was looking at a picture of the rather anodyne and strangely characterless (IMHO) beauty that is actress “Charlies Felon.”
Crazy Legs finally managed to stir himself long enough to outline our plans for the day and left to lead the front group, pulling with him a strong group bolstered by a couple of University racing snakes.
I dropped into the smaller, second group, ostensibly and titularly led by OGL, but in reality following the Red Max. We were joined by a handful of Grogs, a few irregulars, Sneaky Pete, Captain Black, Szell and the Garrulous Kid. The Big Yin looked at the composition of our group, shook his head and quickly set off in pursuit of the first group.
Who can blame him?
Leaving a decent interval, Red Max led the way and we pushed off, clipped in and rode out on yet another fun-filled adventure.
I dropped in alongside Sneaky Pete for a catch-up, but it wasn’t long before our conversation was being rudely interrupted by a persistent clacking, which we finally traced to the back end of his bike. We called a halt so OGL could try and determine what the issue was and after some investigative work he expertly diagnosed the issue as cracked balls – either a euphemism for a particularly nasty testicular fungal infection, or a serious issue with the bearings in his rear hub.
Both potential diagnoses were equally distressing, and leery of suffering a terminal malfunction in the middle of nowhere, Sneaky Pete reluctantly cut short his ride and headed for home.
I next caught up with Captain Black, fresh from a holiday in Majorca where he’d somehow managed to smuggle his bike along. He listened to my complaint of too little cycling while on holiday and raised me a case of too much cycling on holiday, suggesting he was so worn out he wouldn’t even contemplate engaging in the coffee shop sprint. (Hah!)
Our discussion of our much derided club jersey was interrupted by OGL who objected when I complained about its 1970’s styling, by informing me it was actually designed in the 80’s – “but as a tribute to the 70’s,” Captain Black added sotto voce.
I then learned that not only was it designed in the 80’s, but it was the collaborative work of “a committee” – which rather appropriately suggested the old saw about how a camel is just a horse designed by committee. We were then informed that the jersey’s garish colours and hideous, dated design are a positive virtue as nobody wears anything quite like it and it allows you an instant appreciation of where all your teammates are during a race.
OGL’s final argument in defence of his beloved jersey was that many pro teams use a similar design, although considering some of the efforts the likes of Skil-Shimano, Teka, Mapei, Castorama, Phonak, Polti or Tonton Tapis have turned out over the years, I’m not sure that’s exactly an endorsement.
At the top of Brunswick Hill, the Red Max rolled off the front, while, with impeccable timing and a great deal of affected insouciance, the Grog next in line slowly reached for his bottle and took a very long and involved drink, while drifting back down the line. With no one willing to come through and take up the lead, a mentally shrugging Red Max moved back onto the front and stuck his nose into the wind yet again.
On the downhill run I worked my way through the group until I could relieve Max on the front, dropping in beside a relative newcomer who said he’d been out with the club quite a few times, but I didn’t recognise. We set what I felt was a remarkably sensible and sedate pace, only to be castigated for racing. In truth, the ride was so slow and unthreatening, that a weasel was able to stroll across the road in front of us, stop, eye us up speculatively, then hop unconcernedly through a hedge and disappear.
As we pushed through Whalton we were met with a lashing rain shower and a halt was called so we could pull on jackets, before pushing on again. The shower slowly eased and passed, so that by the next stop, at Dyke Neuk, jackets were doffed and stowed once again. Here I caught Szell singing the praises of his Castelli Gabba waterproof and had to inform him it wasn’t as good as The Ramones version, the Gabba Gabba Hey.
I now found myself on the front with Captain Black and we plotted altering the planned route in light of the deteriorating weather, chopping off the leg up to Rothley Crossroads. Re-worked route agreed, we dropped down through Hartburn and began to grind our way across to Middleton Bank.
With the rain slashing down again and bouncing off the tarmac, I pushed on ahead of everyone and stopped at the next junction to fish out my jacket again. As the rest whipped past and away, I found Szell stopping behind me and also reaching for his jacket. I warned him it was a case of bad timing as his bete noire, Middleton Bank was looming and we’d already been left some distance behind.
I started to give chase and Szell, realising his predicament followed, not even delaying long enough to zip his jacket closed. On the run down toward the base of the climb we slowly clawed our way onto the back of the group, but by this point Captain Black and the Red Max were already tackling the steeper ramps up ahead. Still, there were plenty of hares to chase and act as relay points as I set off in pursuit.
Working my way up the outside, I found the Garrulous Kids wheel as we hit the steep section and, as he accelerated, I dropped in behind and followed until the road straightened. As I rode around and past him he started complaining his gears weren’t working, which seems rather unusual given the … ahem … ultra-precise and exacting standards of his German engineered bike.
I’d reeled in the Red Max by the crest of the climb and then set off in pursuit of Captain Black, not even thinking about stopping and regrouping and just wanting to get out of the rain. Between the two of us we then drove the pace along. I never looked back and had no idea who was following, or who was floundering.
Down through Milestone Woods and onto the rollers I tried attacking the slope, but the road was awash and my rear wheel started slipping and spinning without traction. I dropped back down onto the saddle and ground my way over the top and down toward the last climb up to the café.
As I took the last corner Captain Black whirred past (Hah! I say again) and away, shortly followed by Kipper and I was left competing for the minor places with Mini Miss and the Red Max.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
In the café, soaking wet and dripping it was black bin bags all around to keep wet posteriors away from the furniture.
We’d been served and were sitting comfortably by the time the Garrulous Kid rolled in, easy prey to Red Max’s wind-up that he’d not only been beaten in the sprint, but thoroughly thrashed. He bit. Hard. He started leaning on a sorry pile of excuses, stuck gears, malfunctioning brakes, poor visibility, too little pressure in one tyre, too much pressure in the other, before simply vowing revenge next week, when, he warned he would “utterly destroy everyone.”
The Red Max related being asked by the Monkey Butler Boy to take a day off work, theoretically so father and son could do a bit of bonding on a long ride into North Northumberland. Giving up a precious day’s holiday, Red Max had suggested Wooler as a good destination, only to be told, no, they were actually going to Ford. En route, he then learned that they were heading to Ford because that’s where the Monkey Butler Boy’s current squeeze was holidaying en famille.
It then turned out that the Monkey Butler Boy had not only not informed the Red Max about the real purpose of his trip, but he hadn’t bothered to tell his girlfriend either. So, after valiantly battling away for fifty odd miles, up hill, down dale and through the elements, the Monkey Butler Boy’s surprised reception was a somewhat less than welcoming, “What are you doing here?”
As if on cue, the Monkey Butler Boy and his wrecking crew rolled up through the sheeting rain, eventually followed in by their harassed-looking, out of breath, grey-faced and thoroughly exhausted looking coach. The Red Max sympathised with the coach, suggesting riding with the wrecking crew was a quick route to self-annihilation and prompting questions about whether the Monkey Butler Boy is deserving of a more dynamic and sympathetic name change – maybe to The A-nyallator, or similar…
Nah, of course not.
Talk of the Monkey Butler Boy’s girlfriend led the Red Max to an intense interrogation around the Garrulous Kid’s holiday romance with the girl from Hull, with the Garrulous Kid protesting they were “just friends” – even though he had a photo of her on his phone … and even though he had a photo of her dog on his phone too – a Pug called Doug (the dog, not the girl.)
A rather bemused Mini Miss wondered why they were discussing Ugg boots and I had to explain they were actually talking about Pugs and not Uggs – and, one particular Pug called Doug. We agreed they were both equally as ugly (the dog and the sloppy and shapeless footwear, not the girl)
This did lead to some idle speculation that Uggs were actually made out of dead Pugs, which would explain some of their shared characteristics…
The Garrulous Kid protested that he liked Pugs, especially the cute, wheezing, snuffling, distressed little grunting noises they make trying to breathe through their in-bred, facial deformities. I suggested this was the exact same distressed noise he was emitting when I rode past him on Middleton Bank earlier – and I didn’t think it was at all cute. (I never did establish his position on Uggs.)
One of our number started squeezing a long stream of dirty water from his track mitts and directly into his coffee cup. “You don’t have to do that, mate” the Red Max told him, “They’ll give you a free refill if you ask.”
Just then the Monkey Butler Boy wandered up, soaking wet and leaving a long trail of water in his wake. He’d decided to wear his club skinsuit for the ride and so had no way of carrying a rain jacket and was thoroughly drenched. Typical teen, he did of course have his phone clutched firmly in his hand and I wondered where he stored this when riding. Apparently, clenched between his buttocks, according to the Red Max, who also suggested this was why he always used it hands-free as he didn’t want it anywhere near his nose.
Pulling on wet gear again, gloves, arm warmers, helmets, jackets and the like, is always an unpleasant end to the otherwise enjoyable café stop, but it had to be done and once more we ventured out into the teeming rain.
I rode back with the Red Max, finding out that he isn’t away on holiday until a trip to Spain in October. I queried if the weather would be all right then.
“Well, it’ll be better than this,” was the terse reply and I couldn’t argue.
This time around he’s persuaded Mrs. Max to take her bike too and I suggested that with the Monkey Butler Boys new-found prowess, this was at least one way in which Max could ensure he wouldn’t be last in all the sprints.
“Hmm, I’m not so sure about that.” He concluded glumly.
He then suggested tonight would be great conditions for venturing outdoors to watch for Perseid meteor showers and seemed serious in his assertion.
I looked at him quizzically, soaking wet and thoroughly sodden and bedraggled, rain dripping off his nose and running in rivulets down his bike, shoes squelching with every pedal stroke. He seemed sincere, there was no hint of a smile, or the slightest trace of any irony.
I then looked through the gloom at the rain hammering down all around us, the long puddles stretching out from the verges to reach across a road awash with water, and then I looked up at the louring dark, mass of low, unbroken cloud…
Well, you’ve got to admire his optimism.
The Monkey Butler Boy and Garrulous Kid took to racing each other up Berwick Hill, but I was heavy legged and tired out and couldn’t react, so just plugged up behind them. We caught up with OGL who’d left the café ahead of us and, rather bizarrely, he too joined the youngsters for some sparring up the hill to Dinnington.
Before too long everyone else was swing away and I was cast free to plod my way home, being battered by two more heavy, stinging showers, a particular low point amidst the otherwise continual and steadily unrelenting downpour.
I was beginning to feel a bit chilled by the time I reached the bottom of the Heinous Hill, so for once its demands at least had some side benefits and I it wasn’t long before I was home and heading for a very welcome hot shower.
YTD Totals: 4,825 km / 2,777 miles with 55,162 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 114 km/71 miles with 1,075 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 23 minutes
Average Speed: 26.0 km/h
Group size: 22 riders, No FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Overcast, humid
Overnight rain had washed some of the mugginess out of the air and it was appreciably cooler compared to the stifling and oppressive stuffiness we’d endured in the past few days.
It didn’t look like it would be long before things warmed up though, with the sky capped by an insulating layer of thick, grey cloud and the wind light enough to leave the grass unstirred.
One consequence of the morning freshness following a week of warm humidity was that all the gardens, hedgerows and fields were growing with lush, unchecked abandon and the air was thick with a noticeable scent of blossom and pollen – which I found appealing, but is probably hell for anyone with allergies.
A few minor incidents with motorists kept me distracted on the run in and got me thinking about certain makes of car and my expectations of their drivers.
The first happened shortly after I’d left home and was dropping over the brow of the Heinous Hill, letting gravity pull me down and picking up speed rapidly. Around half way down I became aware of a car surging up on my right and moving to overtake – despite the fact I was already travelling at 38 mph, there was a traffic island slap bang in the middle of the road and we were fast approaching a sharp, blind bend.
I glanced behind to see a low-slung, black car hovering menacingly on my shoulder, so swung further out into the lane to dispel any notion that this was a suitable or safe place to try and overtake a solitary cyclist. Luckily sense prevailed, the car pulled back and I managed to open up a fairly sizeable gap as I skimmed down to the foot of the hill.
Turning left at the bottom I set out along the valley floor and it wasn’t long before the black car went blatting past at a quite ridiculous speed. I wasn’t even remotely surprised to register that it was an Audi TT, although they did catch me out by not remonstrating more forcefully about the 20 second delay I’d caused them.
Crossing the river and then doubling-back on myself, I then swooped around one bend to find a double-decker bus pulling out in front of me, so slowed to allow him space. Once again I sensed a car travelling too fast and too close, surge up close behind me before braking sharply and falling back.
This time it was blue Audi saloon, with a hugely pressing need to be somewhere else in a hurry and the righteous entitlement to all of the road. Oh, plus that unique capabilities that only a big German car can bestow, the capacity to see around corners and completely through large opaque objects, coupled with a magic shield of invulnerability.
Then, clambering up the other side of the valley, I was swinging left at a junction when a car followed me around, sweeping by much too close. This turned out to be a red Audi estate, driven (badly) by a man steering only with his left hand, because his right was much too hot and sticky, so he felt the need to dangle it out of his open window.
Now, I’m not suggesting that every Audi driver is a brainless RIM, or psychotic, self-entitled and dangerous arse-hat, but it does strike me that in my experience, these types of car have a higher chance of being piloted by just this type of driver. Vorsprung durch entrüsten, if you will.
It’s interesting, because a few years ago I would have classed BMW drivers as the ones to be wary around – perhaps our economic woes have caused them all to downshift? I also get the feeling that every cyclist has different experiences and their own personal bête noire when it comes to motor vehicles. Perhaps we need a national survey to identify the worst offenders – but for the time being, in lieu of more definitive evidence I’ll stick to my Audi-ophobia.
Main topic of conversation at the start:
I arrived to find Rab Dee discussing the latest progress (or perhaps lack of progress would be more accurate) on his new bike-build project, which seems to be struggling through a long, drawn-out and slightly troublesome gestation.
In fact, such are some of the complexities of his new BMC Time Machine that he has had to hand it over to OGL for help with some of the ultra-technical bits.
When I queried what the delay was, he reported that OGL is, “Waiting for a bit.”
My brain rattled and shook and clunked while I tried to process this, and when it failed I had to ask for clarification: “When you say he’s waiting for a bit, do you mean he’s waiting for a while … or that he’s waiting for a part?”
For some reason I had this rather churlish and totally unjustified suspicion that OGL might be punishing Rab for giving him such a thankless task, so had decided to agonisingly prolong the wait before he could ride his new toy. But no, apparently he is actually awaiting the arrival of a necessary component.
Crazy Legs arrived suffering a self-inflicted ear-worm as a consequence of spending Friday night at an amateur production of West Side Story, so we were treated to a fine rendition of “Gee, Officer Krupke.”
Golly Moses, natcherly we’re punks?
This was, somewhat startlingly a lot more highbrow than his usual endless repository of slightly off-kilter, occasionally tacky, pre-Millennial pop songs.
G-Dawg revealed his deepest, darkest shame – his close encounter with the Monkey Butler Boy last week had resulted in a slightly damaged spoke that he’d felt honour-bound to replace. The only problem was he couldn’t find any 3mm spokes and had to substitute in a 2mm one, which deeply offended his sense of order and tidiness.
He pointed out the exact spoke with an accusatory finger, it’s precise location seared into his memory by sheer mortification. We looked and looked. And then we looked some more, but none of us could actually see which one was the offending spoke, or notice even the slightest variation among any of the spokes in the immediate area.
At the meeting point I was somewhat surprised that only around 22 lads and lasses had gathered before we set out, given the weather I was expecting a much bigger turn out.
Son of G-Dawg joined the party late after, well partying late, enshrouded in a fugue of alcoholic fumes. It was good to see our plan of keeping him hopelessly hungover on Saturday mornings is working so well. Even better when you realise it’s all self-inflicted and we haven’t yet had to have a whip-round to secure him vast quantities of debilitating alcohol.
The first indication that OGL had something different in mind was when we swung left at the first roundabout. Although quite unusual, this was not unheard of … but this was just the precursor, the appetiser, the hor d’oeuvres for a distinctly different club run.
I slotted in beside the Cow Ranger who informed me he was out for a gentle recovery ride ahead of a block of intense training for some upcoming triathlons. As we passed in front of the airport an all too familiar tinkling noise informed me that I’d jettisoned something else off the bike and I pulled over to let everyone else pass and see what I’d lost now.
Backtracking, I eventually found the bolt that held my camera to its mount had somehow worked loose and fallen away, but luckily the camera had remained in place. I tightened everything up again and gave chase.
There was no sign of our fast-travelling pack at the first junction, where I was faced with a 50/50 choice – left and up the hill or straight on and through the village. I guessed straight on and swept over the roundabout, trying to peer around the cars ahead and catch even the slightest glimpse of a brightly coloured peloton to let me know I was on the right road, but they were nowhere in sight.
Further delayed by traffic lights, I crossed the bridge in Ponteland and took our usual route heading straight over the next roundabout. Just as I exited, the Cow Ranger popped up with a very welcome “they went that-a-way” – pointing in the completely opposite direction, a direction in fact that I don’t recall us ever taking before and one I would never have guessed at without his timely intervention.
I did a quick U-turn, caught up with the Cow Ranger and we combined to give chase. Not only had I made him hang back and provide directions, I was now about to utterly ruin his gentle recovery ride as we started a madcap pursuit that lasted perhaps 3 or 4 miles.
Other than the moment when a car pulled abruptly out of a drive in front of us, our speed never dropped below 20 mph as we hammered along rolling roads, hoping to make the catch before the inevitable junction or split that left us with an insoluble choice, or before my legs burned down to ash and crumbled away.
We finally tagged onto the back two or three cars that were trailing our mob like a convoy of team service vehicles. Sadly, there were no sticky bottles to be had and drafting through the cars didn’t seem like the wisest thing to do, so we waited until they overtook our group and then we were finally able to latch onto the wheels.
I thanked the Cow Ranger for his directions and inestimable help chasing back-on, in-between gasping for breath and trying to recover. “Yes, it’s surprising how fast we actually travel when we seem to be just pootling along in a group,” he replied laconically.
We had caught on just in time as OGL’s intended route unfolded and proved to be quite novel, encompassing many roads untraveled and some semi-familiar ones we took in the opposite direction to our normal rides. These felt eerily recognisable, but subtly different and I soon had to admit I was completely lost.
We called a pee-stop, but in the absence of the Prof and the Plank and the continuing saga of their duelling bladders, there were no takers.
The group split and the faster, longer, harder mob did a big loop around Middleton Bank, substituting one big climb for several smaller ones that proved possibly even more leg-sapping.
We regrouped after crossing one major road, where we waited for Son of G-Dawg to determine if he was going down the marginal gains route of reducing weight by losing his stomach contents. Hangover induced nausea (barely) contained we pressed on, slowly closing on the café and ratcheting the speed up accordingly.
As we clattered down toward the Snake Bends I found myself comfortably tucked into the wheels as Son of G-Dawg defied his hangover to sprint off the front and away. I swung out and started to move past a few riders. I wasn’t attacking as such, but the momentum I’d gained surfing the wheels had me travelling faster than everyone else I was slipstreaming. Unsurprisingly this brought a reaction, everyone kicked and I slotted neatly back in to place and rode the wheels to the café without really needing to exert myself.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:
Captain Black suffered a senior moment when ordering an additional glass of iced-water to go with his coffee and scone. He looked at the numbers on the till display in some confusion and saw them blinking £5.80 at him –considerably more than the £4.20 he expected to spend.
“How much is the water?” He asked in a strangled voice.
“But, but, how much are you charging for the coffee and scone now?” He asked, pointing accusingly at the LCD numbers still blinking furiously on the till and starting to get a little exasperated.
“£2.40 for the coffee, £1.80 for the scone.”
“Huh?” He responded, now gesturing vaguely at the till display in confusion.
“You gave me a £10 note…” the waitress patiently prompted, waiting for the penny to drop.
You could hear the cogs whirring and catch the faint smell of burning as Captain Black ran through a series of not too exacting mental calculations: £2.40 for coffee plus £1.80 for the scone plus £0.00 for the water, that makes, oh let me see … £4.20! And I gave her £10.00, so £10.00 minus £4.20 …
Outside in the garden we tried to calculate just how much money the café made from our patronage, with OGL airily suggesting a figure in excess of £50,000 a year. My own version of whirring cogs and faint burning suggested less than £20,000 is probably a more accurate, but still not inconsiderable sum – perhaps adequate compensation for our unceasing chatter, occasional smothering of the fireplace in kit that smells as bad as a wet dog and the odd random waterlogged seat cushion.
And of course we’re not the only group of cyclists that regularly visit the café.
(Assumes an average of 25 cyclists per visit on every Saturday and Sunday throughout the year – it may be higher in summer, but will definitely be less in winter –spending £7.50 per head. Or 25 cyclist’s x 2 days’ x 52 weeks’ x £7.50 spend = £19,500).
Someone suggested a loyalty card, but Crazy Legs dismissed the idea as he could foresee it involving the collection of at least 50 stamps. So then – one single free cup a year or perhaps even less frequently? Nah.
Thoughts then turned to how we could ever trust a figure like the proven liar and epitome of boorish, public-schoolboy buffoonery, Boris Johnson with the post of Foreign Secretary and expect him to forge relations with the rest of the world given his unerring propensity to casually insult other people and insert his size 11 shoes into his always uselessly-flapping maw.
Discussion turned to our American cousins’ desperate Hobson’s Choice – Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton and how the world appeared to be sleep-walking toward disaster. Crazy Legs however was quick to remind us that we all thought the world was going to end when Ronald Reagan was elected and somehow we managed to survive, so perhaps there’s hope yet.
The ride home found Crazy Legs pondering if the recently announced Undertones 4oth Anniversary Tour would feature Feargal Sharkey (sadly not) – which in turn led to an impromptu “Jimmy, Jimmy” duet as we climbed Berwick Hill.
Perhaps spurred on by the ragged rhythms of our punkish nostalgia, or more possibly in an attempt to deprive us of the oxygen required to keep singing, the pace picked up until OGL was complaining that he’d “raced up here at a slower speed” than we were churning out. Not that he ever, ever, in a billion-gazillion years, ever exaggerates.
Crazy Legs declared it another great ride and who am I to disagree, as we split for home and I cruised through the Mad Mile and away. I passed one of those stick-thin, hard-as-teak, old cyclists cruising along on a vintage steel bike and exchanged the obligatory, UCI approved universal greeting: “How do?”
Spotting my Viner jersey, he started to quiz me about its provenance, obviously mistaking me for one of those Johnny-come-lately, young whipper-snappers who doesn’t appreciate the heritage of great cycling brands and needs forcibly re-educating, like the youngster who saw my Holdsworth Stelvio and asked what kind of name that was for a bike. I think I managed to convince him I wasn’t just an effete poseur and thankfully he let me go without further admonishment.
For the second time in the past fortnight I was passed climbing the Heinous Hill by someone on an e-bike (see: Electraglide in Beige – although this time it was more a case of Electraglide in Hi-Viz.)
I told the old feller atop it that now I knew I was doing something wrong and he suggested I might be looking at my own future. Not yet though and not today. Today I couldn’t see any of the four horsemen astride the e-bike and I wasn’t on my ratbag mountain bike either, or carrying a heavy backpack.
So, despite having 70 miles in the legs already, I dug in and increased the tempo. Then, trying to keep a perfectly expressionless face and breathe easily, I caught up to, passed and dropped the damn e-bike. Ouch, it hurt, but I got there.
YTD Totals: 4,293 km / 2,668 miles with 42,402 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 100 km/62 miles with 914 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 3 hours 54 minutes
Average Speed: 25.5 km/h
Group size: 26 riders, 2 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Overcast, humid
Main topic of conversation at the start:
Arriving bedecked in vintage CSC team kit, I caused Taffy Steve to enquire if I’d been wasting yet more money on cycling frippery and finery. For once I could plead not guilty as the kit had just been recently excavated from the depths of the Old Lycra mountain. I explained it wasn’t new, but very, very old, to which he replied, “Ah! Very old. I should have guessed that, coming from you!” Ouch. I think that might have been payback for last week’s suggestion that he resembled a hulking, grumpy, shockingly profane and disturbingly hirsute Tinkerbell.
The kit was actually a gift from the team to the Pacific Vice President of CSC, who had no interest in cycling, so gave it to his brother, who had no interest in cycling, so he gave it to me. It always makes me smile when I pick it up because it’s clearly marked as being an XL size.
After a much too long absence, Grover emerged to a round of incredulous looks, double-takes and even one or two exploratory prods to see if he was indeed a corporeal entity.
“Is it a miradjee?” Taffy Steve enquired in his best Bugs Bunny/Mel Blanc voice.
“Don’t be an ultra-maroon.” I retorted, before we started arguing, while the FNG’s looked on genuinely perplexed and bewildered:
“It’s duck season!”
“No, it’s rabbit season!”
Oh well, it made us chuckle.
Meanwhile Crazy Legs rolled up sur la Bianchi, a sure sign that the much-cosseted Ribble has somehow re-gained its protected status and is being held back because there is a chance (no matter how slim) that we might encounter some precipitation on the ride.
Crazy Legs confided that he was actually hoping for rain as his shoes were still “too clean and too white” and he hated them. This was an argument I’d only ever encountered once before, from a deeply fashion-conscious, overly-sensitive, pre-teen daughter when I’d asked her why she wouldn’t wear the very new, very expensive Converse Hi-Tops she insisted we buy her.
Taffy Steve pondered whether Bianchi had ever tried to copyright their signature “celeste” blue-green colour, pretty much like Cadbury had tried with the colour purple and Lindt had apparently attempted with rabbits.
Rabbits? Whatever next, trying to copyright the letter “e?” Wh*r* would that l*av* us?”
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:
Crazy Legs had to travel all the way from Newcastle to Worcester for his new job, a long and arduous journey, but necessary because the client said they only had one other operating base in the UK he could work from.
“Oh, where’s that then?” Crazy Legs politely enquired on finally arriving in Worcester.
“Err … as in Cobalt Park?”
Cobalt Park … North Shields?”
“Yeah, wherever that is…”
With the execrable, Euro 2016 football somnambulating toward some sort of long-overdue denouement, the only noteworthy revelation seems to be the scrotum stroking, bum crack teasing, finger sniffing antics of German Coach Joachim Löw. Yeugh! It thoroughly delighted Crazy Legs, though.
I was thinking you wouldn’t find a cyclist doing anything like that, when someone mentioned Contador having to change shoes on the fly following his crash and bravely holding his sweaty insoles in his teeth as he plummeted downhill. Yeugh#2! Was this the knock-out blow that finally put paid to El Pistolero’s Tour de France challenge?
For some reason I lost the thread of the conversation and when I returned the group were discussing a female rider who used to train with us, had incredible leg-strength, but couldn’t actually ride in a straight line. She was attributed with prodigious thighs and what I politely suggested we could perhaps describe as “child bearing calves.” Crazy Legs reflected that the enormous thighs might actually be an impediment to childbirth and I couldn’t help think of some imaginary poor baby being extruded between massive quad muscles, like a lump of Play-Doh. Yeugh#3.
Awaking from too little sleep and feeling quite fuzzy around the edges, Saturday morning found me running on vodka vapours following a too-late Friday night out with work colleagues. This was definitely going to be a kill or cure experience.
I was only moving at half-speed, or perhaps I’m being overly-generous and quarter-speed would be more accurate. I left the house slightly late, taking my occasional alternate route and trading quiet roads for a 5-mile short-cut, managing to arrive with plenty of time to spare.
I was greeted at the meeting point by one FNG enquiring if he was in the right place and I explained he was, but he was at least 15 minutes too early and while our official start-time is listed as 9.00 there’d be no movement until at least 9.15. He just seemed relieved someone else had turned up as he confided he’d actually been hanging around since 8.45.
Picking up a couple more FNG’s, a fairly large group of 26 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out, many threading the needle between two rumbling double-decker buses that suddenly decided to try and blockade our exit with a bit of unnecessary bumper-kissing.
The weather seems to have settled into an all too familiar pattern, grey and overcast, with a feeling that rain could sweep in at any moment – the wind strong enough to be noticeable when not sheltered by fellow cyclists.
We’d just escaped into more rural areas when Son of G-Dawg punctured and we all huddled into a small lay-by while repairs were effected. One of the FNG’s took the opportunity to ask around for a hex key so he could adjust the release tension on his pedals.
“You should be tightening them, not loosening them.” The Prof, err, proffered.
“I don’t think so,” the FNG countered, “At the moment it’s easier and quicker to actually take my shoe off when I need to stop!”
He then crouched down by his bike, muttering the strange mantra, “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” as he worked to loosen his pedal binding. The Prof looked on rather befuddled, wondering in his little scientific, engineers-heart what was wrong with plain-old clockwise and anti-clockwise.
Seemingly shaken by this radical, free-form way of thinking, he repeated the mantra aloud to himself, “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” paused and then asked in a rather plaintive voice, “So what’s okie-dokie then?”
“Ah,” someone explained “That’s when you’ve done righty-tighty or lefty-loosey just enough.”
As we waited, OGL said that he’d had a clear out and had a load of useless and worn old tools he was going to throw away if anyone wanted them, while looking rather pointedly at the Prof as he made the announcement. Somewhat surprisingly the Prof wasn’t interested, explaining he already had a cache of useless and worn out tools (not that that has ever stopped him picking up other people’s junk before.)
He wasn’t even tempted when OGL offered up a set of files so useless and worn “they couldn’t file paper.”
I suggested there really wasn’t much call to file paper and the Prof quipped, “Especially these days with e-mail.” Ba-boom.
After we’d all finished groaning, Taffy Steve shook his head as he admonished us, “Bring together a bunch of dad’s and sure enough, all you’ll get are dad jokes.”
Someone pointed out that, never mind dads, there were grandads amongst us, but all chatter was silenced when Shoeless revealed he knew a 45-year-old great-grandmother.
Thankfully, Son of G-Dawg had finished his repairs and we were able to mount up and push on again.
I drifted to the back in the company of Taffy Steve discussing university congregations and the strange (in my mind, unforgiveable) fashion for wearing tan brogues with blue suits.
We dropped onto some narrow, rural lanes. I heard the shout of “car up!” and spotted a Porsche Cayenne – distant, but seemingly hurtling toward us. Surprisingly, it then pulled to the side of the road and stopped to allow us to safely pick our way past.
A little further on and a shiny black Mercedes did the same and then a massive BMW 4×4. I swear on the ride home I even saw an Audi driver pull to the side of the road, stop and wave us through, although Carlton assures me this was actually a Toyota. History and personal experience does tend to suggest he was right and I was mistaken.
Of course not all drivers were quite so accommodating and at one junction we found ourselves being charged by a monstrous black pick-up truck, in a manner that was purposefully meant to be intimidating. Arse hat.
Even greater peril was still yet to strike and I rounded one sharp bend to find everyone stopped and stationary around a supine Princess Fiona, who’d come off and was lying amongst the roadside nettles.
From what I can gather she’d been surprised by the sudden appearance of a panicked sheep on the road, braked too sharply and lost her back wheel. At least I think that’s what happened, but there was no sign of the offending ninja-sheep.
Princess Fiona was slowly helped back to her feet, a bit bloodied, bruised and scraped, but seemingly intact. Meanwhile Shoeless undertook some percussive maintenance on her twisted saddle and slapped her chain back into place.
Suddenly I saw the sheep for the first time, now charging fearlessly down the road between the slalom course of skinny cyclists and plastic bikes. So, not a miradjee then.
Our bleating, woolly friend had obviously wriggled through a hedge and overgrown ditch to escape, collecting a fair bit of greenery along the way. This was entangled, wound and woven throughout its fleece like some organic, ovine ghillie suit. By using this improvised camouflage, it had been able to lie in wait to ambush unsuspecting cyclists, leaping out with a mighty Boo!
Or maybe Baa!
Now it had either overcome its innate fear of cyclists, or something even more terrifying was driving it back through us.
The ground shook as a low rumble became a thunderous roar, and the sheep’s new nemesis appeared; a massive, shiny-yellow, Caterpillar tractor bedecked with white ribbon and driven by a wedding party in pale grey morning suits and pink cravats. I couldn’t see far enough into the cab to confirm it, but suspect there was a plethora of tan brogues on display too.
We all shuffled to the very margins of the road to allow the behemoth to squeeze past, filling most of the lane and bending back branches on either side, while its occupants smiling benignly down on us from their lofty perch.
We then had to push even further back to allow a second and then a third identical tractor to rumble past. Landed gentry wedding, Northumberland-style.
At our split only OGL and Grover left us for the shortest route to the café. Meanwhile the rest waited before embarking on a longer, harder, faster route. And waited. And waited.
Finally, Crazy Legs demanded some action and called, “Ride ‘em out!” prompting the two of us to belt out a ragged, off-kilter, off-key, call-and-response rendition of Rawhide –unhindered by the fact neither one of us actually know the words. Or should be allowed to sing in public.
We dragged our way up to Dyke Neuk and swung off to head even further North, splitting the group and waving off the even longer, faster, harder group before we started to loop back.
Our group now included Shoeless, Son of G-Dawg, Crazy Legs, Taffy Steve a couple of others and tagging on the back Red Max, the Monkey Butler boy and Szell, as we set course for Szell’s nemesis, Middleton Bank.
I rolled to the front as we approached the hill and started up, climbing out of the saddle and accelerating as we hit the steepest ramp. Sitting down again, I tried to keep the pace at a reasonable level as I sensed someone climbing up on my inside.
I did a quick double-take, but my eyes weren’t lying – it was Taffy Steve, pulling everyone else up the climb with him as if he’d suddenly found some climbing legs. Well, he has been seen lurking around a darkened crossroad bargaining with a shady character.
We drove over the top and sat up to wait for everyone to regroup and because Crazy Legs was feeling particularly benevolent to Szell that day, I do mean everyone. All reformed and back together, Taffy Steve gave me the old UCI timekeeper countdown on his right hand, waved me down an imaginary start-ramp and we started to build up speed.
The pair of us did around 5km on the front trying to drive the pace ever higher, until we rattled down through Milestone Woods and Shoeless, Son of G-Dawg, Crazy Legs and Szell burned off the front. Being overtaken by Szell was unthinkable, so as he died on the first slope I drove us past him, up and over the rollers. Onto the final drag I sat up and watched Taffy Steve nip around me while I did a basking shark impersonation and tried to find a little more air for my screeching lungs.
On the return home we were stopped at some temporary traffic lights, when a small kid on a fat-tyred, nondescript, MTB swooped out of a junction and pulled up in the middle of the bunch. As the light turned amber, he sprinted away, through us and the roadworks in an attack so audacious he earned a massive cheer and huge encouragement.
We caught him faltering on the sharp climb up to Dinnington, where Taffy Steve planted a huge hand on his back and drove him, rocket-propelled up the slope and over the top. He might never climb that hill faster in his entire life – and I’ve never seen a grin so wide.
A good run, the perfect hangover antidote and we finally managed a summer ride without getting soaked. Upwards and onwards.
YTD Totals: 3,975 km / 2,470 miles with 39,203 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 114 km / 71 miles with 1,056 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 9 minutes
Average Speed: 26.4 km/h
Group size: 24 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two: Bright and passably warm
Main topic of conversation at the start:
I’d donated a pair of arm warmers to Taffy Steve because they were far too big for my puny, spindly arms and just a tiny bit too tight to even wear on my legs. He modelled them for his ride in and wondered what kind of idiot needed a big L and R on each cuff so they would know which arm to put them on.
I held out both my arms so he could see the corresponding L and R on the cuffs of my sleeves and explained this was even worse because these weren’t individual arm warmers, but a long sleeved base layer, with a logo on the front breast, a label inside the back and a scooped neck at the front so you know exactly which way to put it on. Or maybe not.
This left us wondering if cyclists could be unintentionally set up as the sporting equivalent of the dumb blonde. It reminded Taffy Steve of awful Irish “comedian” Jimmy Cricket who featured in The Krankies Klub with The Krankies and Bobby Davro. Now there’s a Iine-up that could still make me break me out in a cold sweat.
As well as lame catchphrases, Jimmy Cricket was of course famous for wearing wellies with a big L and R incised on the front, but wait, there’s more, as he hilariously wore these on the wrong feet. I know, side-splittingly funny.
This in turn reminded me of a very old and fetid joke about C&A knickers, but let’s not go there and then lead to completely unfounded speculation that posited OGL as the Bernard Manning of the local cycling club scene.
With the weather being a bit of a lottery as to how much rain we might get and exactly when, Crazy Legs revealed he’d packed his non-waterproof waterproof. Taffy Steve was imminently disdainful of any waterproof jacket and explained he must be putting them on inside out as the outside would remain dry, while the inside quickly became sodden.
An interesting article about changing cycling club culture that the Hammer had posted on our Faecesbook page caused a little, but in my mind not enough debate. I may yet have to return to this topic, much like a dog to its own vomit.
Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop:
Crazy Legs revealed someone had invented a pump integrated into a seat tube, but of course you had to dismantle half of your bike to access it. It apparently weighs in at a measly 718g and is yours for a mere $50 plus P&P.
We decided the design could be improved if it worked in situ, the piston action perhaps providing a degree of suspension to smooth out a few bumps in the road. Even better if it was always connected and the bumps inflated your tyres as you rolled along. The problem then of course would be that on the horribly rutted and potted roads around here you would very quickly inflate your tyres beyond rock hard and unrideable, right up to spectacular blow out levels.
Thoughts turned to the Giro and I suggested (wrongly as it turns out) that no one with a team in our club fantasy Giro league had selected Valverde. Crazy Legs suggested this was because no one liked the wheel-sucking, drug-cheating, play-it-safe, selfish and unrepentant-doper, not even his own Movistar team mates.
He cited an early stage in the Giro when Visconti wouldn’t leave a breakaway in order to help his supposed leader, feigning radio problems before blatantly arguing with his DS and adamantly refusing to drop back to help.
There was further speculation that Valverde was so unpopular he didn’t have any friends on Faecesbook, no connections on Linked-In and no followers on Strava.
Crazy Legs complained his team of fantasy picks had been systematically decimated, his bad luck particularly epitomised by J.C. Peraud, simultaneously riding both his first and very last Giro, given joint team-leadership responsibilities and not even surviving long enough to ride a single metre on Italian roads.
This in turn brought up discussions about the proposed Giro 2018 start in Japan and how long a rest would be needed to recover from a 14-hour transfer. As a solution we came up with the idea of twinning – one rider completing the first few overseas stages before handing over to another rider to finish things off.
We then decided it would be more fun if the riders were “twinned” by lottery and it would be interesting to see who they were paired with and their reactions when the draw was made, for example when an overall contender had to rely on say Marcel Kittel to climb the 3,778 metres up Mount Fuji.
I suggested the riders could actually pick their twins, like choosing sides for a playground kick around and how informative it would be to see who was last man selected. Crazy Legs though scolded me for being silly, as it was obvious who would be the last man picked: the ever unpopular Alejandro Valverde obviously.
He then caught Son of G-Dawg fiddling with his phone and accused him of being caught quickly and surreptitiously unfriending Valverde on Faecesbook. We waited for the phone to ring and a Spanish accented voice start to plead with Son of G-Dawg not to follow through with the unfriending – but sadly it never happened. Perhaps Balaverde (the Green Bullet) had other things on his mind at the time?
Despite having everything set out and sorted the night before, I found myself strangely short of time and dashing around early Saturday morning trying to get ready and out the door to ensure a timely arrival at the meeting point. It wasn’t to be and leaving over 10 minutes behind my usual schedule, I considered shortening my route, but thought if I just pushed a little faster than normal I could still make it before we set off for our regular and prompt 9.00 o’clock start (i.e. at 9.20 on the nose).
I dropped quickly down the hill and turned straight into a headwind that had me even more concerned and gave a little extra impetus and no small measure of unwelcome resistance to my charge. My usual early morning ramble now had a measure of urgency that saw me crouched low over the bike and trying to keep a high cadence.
With one eye on the time display of my Garmin, I passed the 8.42-mile mark (which I knew I’d hit at exactly 8:42 a couple of weeks back when I was on schedule) and checked to find it was only 8:35. I’d somehow made up the missing 10 plus minutes, gained another 5 and was now in danger of being much too early. I dialled the intensity back to a more, steady pace I could actually hold, but not before I’d set 4 Strava PR’s with my efforts.
For the day I’d chosen the most extreme version of kit matching imaginable to go with my black, red and yellow bike with the Lion of Flanders bar end plugs, yellow and black Vitorria Corsa tyres and carefully selected black red and yellow, BMC/PowerBar water bottle. This consisted of a Planet X Flanders jersey and shorts in yellow, black and red emblazoned with the Lion of Flanders, my new, very, very shiny, very, very red and very, very plasticky Chinese shoes and yellow socks also emblazoned with a black Lion of Flanders.
The whole was topped off with a new Carnac aero helmet in black, yellow and red which, just to change things up a little, was emblazoned with the Lion of Flanders across the crown. According to one of my esteemed work colleagues this makes me look like an angry wasp, although I prefer to think the look is more akin to a benevolent, bumbling bee.
Lots of people … I was going to say complimented me, but I think just commented on my kit choice is the more accurate description. They did however all suggest I was at the very least “well co-ordinated.” There you go, I’m not the best rider in the club, nor the fastest, nor even the most stylish, but just for this one day I was the most co-ordinatedand at my age you’ve got to take your victories where you can find them.
Crazy Legs suggested the whole look was ruined because my sunglasses didn’t match and I had to sheepishly admit I had some in a fetching shade of black, red and yellow on order, they just hadn’t arrived yet. Hmm, there’s a book called obsessive compulsive cycling disorder, isn’t there? I wonder if it’s catching…
The anointed time arrived and 24 lads and lasses pushed off, clipped in and rode out under intermittingly bright and sunny skies and occasionally dark, overcast patchwork cloud. All the weather forecasts had predicted that we were likely to see rain at some point during the day, the only question was exactly when and with what intensity and duration.
I completed the first part of the ride alongside the Monkey Butler Boy, fresh from conquering the Wooler Wheel and growing fast. Too fast. I’ve tried to persuade the Red Max to stop feeding him, but apparently he has well-honed foraging instincts and is surprisingly feral.
At one point we were split with cars in between the gaps and stopped at a junction to regroup. It was here that we learned we’d lost Szell, who had turned for home after only a few miles with no indication of why he’d abandoned. Perhaps he was just disappointed our intended route didn’t involve an ascent of Middleton Bank.
Pretty much from the re-start I found myself on the front with Caracol where the wind became particularly noticeable and occasionally head-on and energy sapping. Nonetheless we pushed things along at a steady pace until we reached one of our traditional places to stop and split the group.
The Red Max tried to persuade the Monkey Butler Boy that the long route was actually the shortest way to the café. Armed with a keen sense of mistrust, perhaps common in many father-son relationships, but I suspect especially well-honed between this pair, the Monkey Butler Boy wasn’t buying it. Perhaps remembering the “shorter, easier route” that took in the Ryals a few week past, he needed a great deal of persuading to accompany the longer, harder, faster group and a bit of bribery as well, managing to offload his rain cape from his own back pocket onto his dad.
At one point we passed by what I can best describe as a dead duck in the middle of the road, (it was a duck and it was indeed dead) though it looked surprisingly intact. Disappointingly there was no one within our ranks to claim the carcase.
The pace increased as we approached the Quarry Climb and when Andeven spun away up the outside with Caracol in pursuit, I accelerated to follow, cresting the climb to find Crazy Legs in close attendance on my rear wheel, apparently just in case I tried a long, long break for home!
I had time for a brief chat with Aveline, who’d had her rear wheel fixed and was pleased to find it no longer sounded like a bag of loose spanners, or made her feel seasick with the constant wobbling and then the pace started to build for the run to the café.
A sudden burst off the front saw a gap opening and with a massive effort, out of the saddle with the bike skipping and bouncing, I managed to bridge as last man across as we fractured into two groups. I hung on as riders rotated off the front, an improvised paceline that whipped the speed up even higher.
Crazy Legs rolled back from his stint at the spearhead and slotted in front of me, while Son of G-Dawg charged off the front. Moscas tried surging up the inside, but couldn’t close the gap and we slowly crept up and then parallel with him.
Crazy Legs now manoeuvred so he was riding practically down the white line to try and find the least damaged piece of road surface. It helped, but not by much, as wheels continued to bounce and everything shook viciously.
I moved to overtake him, but was straying into the opposite lane and a car, still quarter of a mile away took exception and started flashing his lights furiously. Being sensible for once and realising my overtaking speed was likely to be akin to glacial creep, I eased, slipped back and tucked in again.
The car swept past and I tried once more, hitting the front of the pack just behind the front runners in time to sit up and ease back for the Snake Bends. As usual, great fun mixed with a little danger and some pure exhilaration.
From the café Taffy Steve again found himself leading the charge home and opted to pull over and let someone else batter ahead into the wind. I was still feeling good so joined Sneaky Pete on the front, trying to contain his over-exuberance and try and limit the number of “Steady!” cries we were generating from behind.
At one point he suggested, “Steady’s all you’ll ever get from me” I would have laughed, but I was too out of breath trying to keep pace with his incessant half-wheeling. Retired folk these days eh? You just can’t control them.
I actually thought we did a damn fine job pulling everyone home to the point when half turned off and the rest were able to slingshot around us and charge down the Mad Mile.
A good ride and the rain never did manage to catch us, but it’ll have to keep me going for a week or two as I head off on holiday. How inconvenient. No doubt I’ll miss more vintage runs full of of fun and frivolity and, who knows maybe even a welcome return for Captain America. Enjoy the peace.
I’ll be back…
YTD Totals: 2,932 km / 1,821 miles with 28,170 metres of climbing