Winter Doors?

Winter Doors?

Well, looks like Mother Nature has a heart after all. After missing a ride out in the glorious weather a week ago, we got an almost exact replica of conditions this week and a rare, early opportunity to break out the summer bikes, at least temporarily.

The choice of bike might have changed, but it was still extremely chilly when I set out first thing, so the layering was still leaning toward over-dressed – with a gilet, glove liners, cap and potentially even overshoes as optional extras that could be abandoned as the temperature rose.

There was another rowing event on down by the river, but the traffic and crowds weren’t as heavy as usual so there was no major hold-ups. (Later Internet sleuthing suggested this was the Ponteland Junior Head competition, so probably not as big as some of the other events). What did slow me though were the half dozen sets of traffic lights I encountered, which had me wondering if the local council has actually found some money to do a few road repairs. That would be nice.

Traffic lights notwithstanding, I made it to the meeting point bang on the hour and perched alongside G-Dawg on the wall, enjoying the sun as our numbers quickly built.

One of the first to show was Carlton, who unexpectedly arrived a good 10 minutes ahead of his standard only-just-in-time appearance.

“Are you just really, really late for last week’s ride?” a perplexed G-Dawg had to ask.

Just about everyone had taken the opportunity to break out their summer bikes, with the notable exception of Aether. Not that you would know though, as he never mentioned this all that much, even when everyone was nipping past him on the Quarry climb …

James III even had a shiny new bike to show off, which Crazy Legs quickly subjected to the obligatory weight test, scooping it up to see just how light it was, before nodding approval. While he gave the bike the official thumbs-up, the same could not be said about the Ineos Grenadiers jersey James III was sporting, which drew a high degree of ire and approbation. James III was left standing, arms folded defensively across his chest, covering the Ineos logo, like a nun asked to disrobe in front of a lecherous bishop.

“Yeah better,” Crazy Legs suggested, “Can you ride the whole route like that?”

Brassneck had taken the fine weather as the first opportunity to wear his new Wedding Present “Sea Monsters” jersey which he’d acquired toward the back end of next year and had been languishing in his wardrobe unused for too long. This at least got a Crazy Legs stamp of approval, although he did suggest the “Bizarro” one was better. Sadly, there was no sign of TripleD-El’s perfect blue jersey she had bought at the same time and which had been so carefully colour coordinated to match the non-existent blue on her bike.

Just about everyone had taken the opportunity to wear shorts, the only person wrapped up to the same degree as me was Plumose Papuss and his explanation was he was working through the second day of an extreme hangover, the same excuse he gave for declining an invitation to ride with the first group. Naturally, we took the inability to bounce straight back from a heavy drinking session as proof that he was getting old and was already waaaay past his prime – I mean he must almost be approaching 25 now, the old fart.

The good weather had certainly brought everyone out and we had enough for three groups, although as usual take-up of the first, faster group was a little, how should we say it, constrained? To make up numbers G-Dawg sacrificed himself to the Unholy Church of the Racing Snakes. I’m not sure he altogether enjoyed the experience.

I hung back to ride with the 3rd group and for a long catch-up with Taffy Steve, our paths having only crossed very briefly once or twice this year. Naturally, we had all manner of ground to cover, both profound and trivial (but obviously leaning very heavily toward the trivial.) This included at what point bike maintenance and upgrades should outweigh the cost of a new bike, the defeat of school rules through undisputable and unavoidable child logic, the case for, and dangers of e-bikes and whether spin bowlers ever break into a sweat. This latter was prompted by the death of Shane Warne and then led to a conversation with Carlton about the recent death of Foo Fighters, Taylor Hawkins. My rule of thumb – if it’s rock and roll and unexpected, then drugs are probably involved (doubly so with regard to a drummer) sadly seems to have been correct.

In such entertaining company the miles sped by quickly, even when we took on a stint at the front through Stamfordham and out toward the reservoir and we were soon clambering up the hill toward the cafe at Capheaton. The fine weather had worked its charm here too and the place was absolutely mobbed with cyclists drawn out by unseasonable conditions and it was standing room only outside.

Here I caught up with Ahlambra, looking forward to some time off having worked all the hours and over-time the pandemic had offered up. One benefit of this was he’d saved up a tidy sum of surplus money that he was thinking of spending before he lost it all to rising fuel bills. He confessed his original intent had been to replace all the interior doors in his flat, but was now leaning towards getting himself a new winter bike, reasoning he was the only one likely to be sitting in his flat staring blankly at the doors and a new bike would give him so much more joy.

Now though, Caracol was up and running with the idea of having different winter and summer doors, swapping between something heavy, sturdy and practical in winter for something flasher, lighter and more expensive when the weather improved. (You know, I often wonder if other cycling clubs have much more normal conversations?)

Meanwhile, across the other end of the table, Crazy Legs was distressed to learn that the popular confectionery line he knew as Midget Gems throughout his youth had been renamed Mini Gems after a disability academic raised concerns about the use of the word “midget” offending people with dwarfism.

“They’ll always be Midget Gems to be,” Alhambra confirmed, “I mean, I still call a bleedin’ Snickers bar a Marathon!”

“Snickers!” he snorted derisively. “Bloody ridiculous!”

Amen.

Perhaps as a consequence of the sheer number of cyclists the coffee wasn’t all that good today and I didn’t bother with a refill before joining up with one of the groups heading back. We picked up OGL from one of his solo rides just outside Belsay and I rode with him on the front until I turned off for Ponteland and began to thread my way home.

Inspired by Brassneck’s ongoing homage to all things the Wedding Present, I entertained myself along the way trying to think of album covers that could translate into a good cycling jersey. My own rules were that it would have to be something graphical and abstract, rather than photographic, it had to be original and it had to be something I would like and listen to. This of course immediately ruled out Pink Floyd’s somewhat iconic album cover “Dark Side of the Moon”, not so much because it’s already been done, but because Crazy Legs and I have a mutually supportive compact where neither of us will even allow any Pink Floyd material into our homes, let alone listen to it.

This exercise proved much, much harder than I anticipated – perhaps suggesting that 99% of album covers are just naff? I thought perhaps Television’s eponymous third album might work, but unfortunately it reminded me too much of a chainring tattoo, the Clash’s “Give ‘Em Enough Rope” would at least be colourful (but would you wear it?) unlike the Redskins “Neither Washington Nor Moscow” and AFI’s “Decemberunderground” which were a bit too monochrome. Early REM cover “Reckoning” I reckoned might work, while the Comsat Angels “Fiction” would give you something akin to the glorious and classic Mapei colour explosion.

The best I could come up with though was Joni Mitchell’s “The Hissing of Summer Lawns.” This I think could be made into a classy and stylish bit of kit, so if you’ve got the wherewithal, set me up and I’ll buy one.

I’m still not totally satisfied though, so this is likely to keep me exercised on future rides too. Hey, it’s maybe self-indulgent, but it’s no worse than the venerable Toshi San who used to spend his rides calculating gear ratios in his head … I mean.


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 26th March 2022
Riding Time:4 hours 22 minutes
Riding Distance:106km/66 miles with 912m of climbing
Average Speed:24.2km/h
Group Size:30 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:8℃
Weather in a word or two:Perfect?
Year to date:915km/569 miles with 9,483m of climbing


Holding Pattern

Holding Pattern

An early start was on the cards this week as I did a bit of (unofficial) club kit delivery prior to the ride. This saw me leaving the house 30 minutes ahead of my normal departure to give myself a little wiggle room, only to find I was delivering the kit (to a slightly disheveled, only recently woken, but hopefully still grateful) recipient, a full 45 minutes ahead of schedule. How did that happen?

With time to fill, I took an aimless ramble through Newcastle’s most northerly suburbs but found nothing of note or interest. I was still early at the meeting point, catching up with the Judean People’s Front before their departure, their large numbers suggesting we too would likely have a major turnout on such a fine day. It was chilly but bright and dry with very little wind. Great conditions for a ride.

The uncharacteristic announcement of an imminent EGM continues to be the major topic of conversation within the club. This has not been helped by its governing authority refusing to disclose any sort of agenda, or any details about the purpose or proposed outcomes from the meeting. In fact, the only diktat that has been issued from on high is that people intending to turn up should carefully study the club history as outlined on its website beforehand.

TripleD-Be joked that in all likelihood this meant there would be loyalty test at the start of the night and only those who could demonstrate a forensic knowledge of the club’s history would be allowed in. We laughed, but then again …

In a club that has arbitrarily banned bona fide members from its Facebook page for no apparent reason, it didn’t surprise me that there appear to be a number of paid-up club members who have categorically not been invited to attend the EGM too. So, intrigue piled on top of interest on top of incredulity. Light blue touchpaper and retire to a safe distance …

Back to more immediate matters and Richard of Flanders had planned and would lead our ride today. The route carved out a big oblong out almost directly due north, before turning west, then south to the cafe at Capheaton, before heading for home. With enough numbers for three groups, we formed up and a very enthusiastic Richard of Flander chivvied our first set out and onto the roads at least 5 minutes before our usual departure time.

We tied to hold back the last group at least until bang on 9:15 as there are always those who time their arrival down to the last second, who knows, perhaps in an attempt to avoid one of OGL’s patented diatribes. AS the minutes ticked down I stood with Captain Black, peering up the road trying to identify an approaching rider that Captain Black was convinced was Carlton.

“Nah,” I told him,”It’s too early. It’s only 9:13. He’s never here until at least 9:14.”

Yep, I was right. It wasn’t Carlton. But two minutes later, just as we were kicking round the pedals to clip in and push off, up he rolled. Perfect timing as usual.

Out on the road, I had a brief catch-up with Biden Fecht, newly returned to us after a bout of illness and making his presence known with a bike that rattled and rang like a toolbox dropped down a stairwell. He had however somehow managed to sort his banshee brakes out, so at least they no longer shrieked and warbled like a scalded cat, so he now had the percussion track just about right, but had lost the over-arching tune.

I did a stint on the front with Captain Black, which was conveniently curtailed when we turned left just before Mitford to avoid a closed road, that apparently wasn’t closed and was where we were meant to be going. Just like that, I found myself right at the back, but it was a turn of events I was more than happy to live with.

By the time we’d completed the westerly leg of our run and had turned south, I was starting to struggle and run out of energy. The climb to the cafe at Capheaton was a proper grind, but at least succour and rest awaited me.

Some discussion took place at the time and venue for the mysterious EGM, with G-Dawg confirming it’s a week on Monday evening and at a local church. I wondered if this would prove useful if anyone needed to claim sanctuary on the night.

Carlton then put the most positive spin possible on the situation, saying the very fact a meeting had been called suggested there was some purpose behind it, otherwise, why bother calling it at all when we could have just have carried on, business as (ab)normal. Now that’s a fantastically positive outlook, but maybe one suited to prove the adage that to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.

We left en masse and tried to get organised into a couple of groups, so I hung back a little. Then, when we were finally underway I found my legs were completely empty and I was struggling to hold the wheels, even on a downhill section.

The gap quickly grew to be unbridgeable and I last saw the group at the top of the steep rise up onto the Belsay road. Oh well, time to start my solo ride back a little earlier than intended. It wasn’t fast and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was a nice day and a pleasant ride, so I was quite content to just amble and bumble my way home.

It gave me the opportunity to try out some new routes too, taking to the cycle paths along the Tyne, which is good for a few photo opps if nothing else. Things were going well until I tried the back lane up past Pedalling Squares. I guess I shouldn’t have tried to pick my way across the road-spanning, water-filled gorge that confronted me there, but I was tired and my brain wasn’t really functioning too well. I committed my front wheel to the stygian depths and thought I’d made it, until I hit the lip of this murky chasm and the tyre started hissing and spluttering like the fuse of a cartoon bomb.

Ugh. Bad timing. Still, I made it home in time to watch Tadej Pogačar simply ride away from everyone else en route to winning Strade Bianche. An impressive display … but I just don’t know.


Day & Date:Club ride, Saturday 5th March 2022
Riding Time:5 hours 22 minutes
Riding Distance:106km/66 miles with 1,055m of climbing
Average Speed:19.7km/h
Group Size:25 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature:9℃
Weather in a word or two:Amiable
Year to date:713km/443 miles with 7,415m of climbing



Blauw is het Nieuwe Zwart

Blauw is het Nieuwe Zwart

I started the day with perhaps the slowest ever descent off the Heinous Hill in the cold, damp and dark of Saturday morning, as I found myself catching and then trailing a massive JCB with backhoe down the bank. I was wondering whether to try and squeeze past when the driver involuntarily brake-tested me one of the corners and I felt my rear wheel lose grip and fishtail. This I took as fair warning that the road surface was either icy or greasy, so I scrubbed off the speed and dropped back to pick my way carefully down hoping to avoid becoming the hood ornament on an approaching car.

As I trundled over the bridge a short while later, a still-rising sun cast the river in a warm, rosy glow, smooth, glassy and featureless except in the distance where an 8-man crew was scything a rowing boat upstream, its wake resembling a huge zipper being pulled open across the surface of the water.

There was no one to chase and scare on the climb up to Denton Burn, but I still made good time and was early to the meeting place, so I did a quick peregrination around the area, meeting up with G-Dawg around Fawdon and riding in with him.

There we found TripleD-El, who couldn’t help but think she’d turned up unfashionably early, mainly because she was unfashionably early.

Our route architect this week was Crazy Legs and he’d gone for an all-time classic club run, predicated mainly on local bus routes where, hopefully, the roads would be gritted in case of ice. Our route then was through Ponteland, up Limestone Lane, Stamfordham, Matfen, the Quarry and then the café. The only novel wrinkle this time would be our choice of café, with Capheaton getting the nod for their very last weekend of operating before their Christmas break.

G-Dawg explained that Crazy Legs was actually on dog watch this weekend (i.e. actually dog watching, rather than in the nautical sense of an early evening shift), so wouldn’t be riding, but he would pop along to brief in the route.

Brassneck arrived, mightily pleased with himself for having secured a new Seamonsters cycling jersey to supplement his Bizarro one. Mini Miss looked on, perplexed.

“What’s that?” she wondered.

“A Wedding Present jersey,” he replied enthusiastically.

“But … but it’s not your wedding?” She was even more confused now.

“The Wedding Present are a popular beat combo,” Brassneck explained patiently, before dredging up one of those facts that are so random and inconsequential, that they simply have to be true, “They’re the only popular beat combo to match Elvis’s record of having 12 top 40 UK hits in a single year.”

“Ah. Right. Yeah.” Mini Miss pondered briefly, “Never heard of them!”

“Anyhow, the only problem is, I’ve now got the jersey just in time to put it away for the summer,” Brassneck lamented.

“I’ve just done the same,” TripleD-El informed us proudly, “I found the perfect jersey in Start Cycles, but it was a men’s one, but then I found they did a women’s version and I actually found one in my size, but it had a fault in it, so I thought they probably don’t have another one, but they did, so I bought that and now I’ve got it packed away until the summer. It’s the perfect blue to match my bike,” she added.

I looked at her Liv bike, then at her, then back down at her bike. From where I was standing, all I could see was a black bike frame.

“But your bike’s black?”

“It has blue highlights,” she insisted.

I looked again and still couldn’t see any blue. Maybe it was the flat lighting on an admittedly dull and grey day and in bright sunlight the bike would look completely transformed? Maybe the bike’s like one of those Magic Eye tricks that you have to stare at for long minutes before a secret picture is finally revealed? (They never work for me either). Maybe I just lack imagination, or just maybe I was being set-up in some sort of elaborate Dutch con game?

“I can’t see any blue,”

She looked down exasperatedly, but couldn’t seem to find any blue herself, then pointed determinedly at her bartape which had tiny holographic snowflakes etched into its surface.

Ok, I guess if the light catches those in a certain way they maybe-might appear blue …

I think the moral of this story is to never imply criticism of a woman’s attempts at colour-coordination. Ever.

Crazy Legs failed to show up to wave us off. (It’s understandable, the trauma of seeing others ride away while you’re not allowed to could break any man.) So G-Dawg briefed in the route, then chivvied, arm-twisted and cajoled us into two roughly even-sized groups. Group#2 was the most popular this week, I suspect because Jimmy Mac was with Group#1, so it would probably feature an unrelenting pace. As a result slightly more chivvying, arm-twisting and cajoling than usual was needed. Still, we got there in the end. Ish.

And off we went…

I fell alongside Zardoz and learned about further devastation that Storm Arwen had wrought on the region, forcing some re-jigging and the curtailment of a portion of the Winter Wonderland event his wife organises each year at Kielder Forest. (Zardoz still denies that he’s grown his fluffy white beard in anticipation of being given a starring role in Santa’s Workshop there, but no one believes him.)

We also had a chat about mountain climbing and how so many people have now climbed Everest that it’s just not all that remarkable anymore and yet they’re still dying while making the attempt. I suggested that climbing the mountain was firmly off my bucket-list and Zardoz helpfully introduced me to the concept of the anti-bucket-list, or fuck-it list. Splendid. Climbing Everest is definitely going in my fuck-it list.

At this point we were traveling along Limestone Lane, our original front pairing had peeled off and G-Dawg and Cowboys were now on point and in the wind, while we followed just behind.

“We’re getting awfully close to the front?” Zardoz suggested, starting to get twitchy.

“Do you want to call a pee-stop?” I wondered.

“Oh, am I that transparent?”

I re-assured him that it being G-Dawg on the front we were probably good until well after Stamfordham and so it proved and we made it to the top of the Quarry before the front was ceded. I took up the lead alongside Brassneck, as at that point Zardoz had somewhat mysteriously disappeared back into the pack, and we led the rest of the way to the café.

Having been served, I arrived at the table in time to hear Goose declare that the Moderna COVID vaccine was undoubtedly and irrefutably the best, because:

A. It was the vaccine he himself had received and,

B. It was the most expensive.

He was naturally implying that Moderna’s price was an indicator of quality and not simply the avarice of the faceless pharmaceutical conglomerate that produced it.

He illustrated his point with the example of two pairs of shoes, one pair costing £10 and the other £100.

“Which do you think would be better quality?” he challenged.

“Well, you wouldn’t get far in £10 shoes,” G-Dawg suggested, not unreasonably.

“No, but you’d have 9 other new pairs to change into,” Goose surmised, undermining his own argument and somewhat missing the point that someone who bought £10 shoes instead of £100 ones was unlikely to be able to afford to spend £100 either on a single, or multiple pairs.

I think at this point he was suggesting that quantity has a quality all of its own. Perhaps the greatest thing that Napoleon never said.

Hold on, that’s not right is it – the greatest thing Napoleon never said includes everything everyone else has ever said, including things like, “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” or “time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” I think I mean the greatest thing attributed to Napoleon that he never actually said.

I was momentarily distracted by G-Dawg’s choice of cake, coffee and ham and pease pudding sandwich.

“Lunch?” I wondered.

“Probably not.”

Fair enough.

By the time I tuned into the conversation on the other side of the table, Goose had moved on to speculating about why the French demand swimmers wear Speedo-style budgie smugglers in public pools. This, in turn, reminded him of the TV-series, Man from Atlantis, who Goose accused of wearing skin-tight, bright yellow, budgie smugglers.

I countered that they definitely weren’t Speedo’s, but shorts and I thought they were the sort of blue that would match TripleD-El’s bike. To be fair, at this point and not having actually seen the blue in question, I felt I could get away with matching it to practically any hue.

Anyway, Mr. Google later informed me that we were both right. And we were both wrong too. The Man from Atlantis did indeed wear shorts, not budgie smugglers. The shorts were indeed bright yellow and not blue.

We then tried to recall the actual premise for the show, which someone suggested was about crime-fighting, a bit like Batman, but set underwater. We then tried to imagine the types of underwater crime the Man from Atlantis could tackle, but other than someone plotting to rob Dogger Bank (boom tsk), we drew a blank.

Perhaps, someone then suggested, he was employed by French municipal authorities to ensure no one went swimming in pools while wearing shorts. Plausible, but surely scant material for the ensuing 2-series and 17 episodes?

By this time we’d pinned the show to around the early 80’s, identified its main star as Patrick Duffy and Brassneck had clarified that the Man from Atlantis had webbed feet, which he demonstrated by helpfully waggling his fingers in the air.

“Webbed feet? He must be from Norwich,” Captain Black quipped.

“Was Patrick Duffy from Norwich?” Goose enquired in all seriousness and above the whooshing noise Captain Black’s remark made as it sailed way over his head.

“Hold on, hold on,” Goose finally interjected, “Isn’t Patrick Duffy dead?”

We assured him that, to the best of our knowledge, he wasn’t.

“Oh, ok. I thought he was shot in the shower or something…”

Things were starting to get a little surreal, which Brassneck added to by suggesting Man from Atlantis was all well and good, but not a patch on Manimal.

“Manimal,” he explained, “could transform into various animals like a hawk or a jaguar.” He recalled it starred an English actor, which Google then confirmed as Simon MacCorkindale.

Most of us could vaguely remember the title of Manimal, but nothing else about the series. No one could remember Simon MacCorkindale, either, but strangely we all knew of his second wife, Susan George.

Even Brassneck was now struggling to remember which animals Manimal transformed into.

“A squirrel,” someone suggested, “And then at the end, he gets run over by a car.”

“A rabbit,” I suggested, “trying to sneak into an armed camp, he’s caught in a searchlight and freezes for the rest of the episode?”

None of our mockery seemed to have any effect on Brassneck and I’m convinced he went home and spent an age reconnecting with Manimal on YouTube

When next I looked up Zardoz was standing over Goose, brandishing his Rapha rain jacket in front of him like a matador’s cape, while Goose struggled with his phone and after an age of fiddling, took a photo of the inside of the jacket.

“No, no, that didn’t work,” Goose exclaimed.

“You need a photo of the outside,” someone suggested.

More fiddling with the phone, another unsuccessful photo and then more fiddling as Goose tried to work out how to turn his flash on. Kid’s and their phones, eh? They just won’t leave them alone.

Finally, Goose got the flash to work and showed us the resulting picture, the flash lighting up Zardoz’s jacket and transforming its dark purple appearance into a glowing, iridescent masterpiece. Quite impressive, but to my mind not a patch on the retina-burning reflective qualities of Proviz kit.

With enough nonsense disgorged to last us for another week, off we went again, following a standard route home. The first part back was cold, the second half was wet and somewhere along the way, Aether apparently claimed a sprint win that only he was contesting.

The miles passed without incident and I was soon heading off solo. A bit of pavement surfing got me through a closed stretch of road without having to detour and I started to climb the Heinous Hill just as the rain began in earnest. I was quite looking forward to a hot shower when I got home, but it wasn’t until I’d fished through all my jersey pockets three times that I realised I’d gone out without my keys.

I checked on the whereabouts of Mrs. SLJ, but she was off across town with Thing#2 who had a hair appointment and they were not due back for at least an hour or so. With the rain settling in, I did the only thing sensible and retired to Pedalling Squares for light refreshments and a chance to watch Wout van Aert ride away with another cyclo-cross race.

I think I’m really lucky to have a cycling cafe on my doorstep (even better with an LBS attached too) but it did mean a double assault on the Heinous Hill. Still, caffeine fuelled and ably bolstered by a fruit scone, the second ride up actually proved significantly easier than the first.

I finally got home in time to get ready and head out to a club social that evening. This involved too many poppadoms, a damn fine chicken Dhansak and numerous bottles of Cobra, while a grand time was had by all.

Dear me, we talk more than enough bolleaux after just a cup of coffee, adding large quantities of alcohol into the mix has a quite, quite startling multiplier effect.

Just as well I’m sworn to secrecy then …


Day & Date:Saturday 11th December 2021
Riding Time:107km/66 miles with 1,071m of climbing
Riding Distance:4 hours 46 minutes
Average Speed:22.4km/h
Group Size:21 riders, 1 FNG’s
Temperature:2℃ to 7℃
Weather in a word or two:Dissociative identity disorder
Year to Date:4,716km/2,930 miles with 50,464m of climbing

Coffee and scone supplied by Pedalling Squares

Passing Wind

Passing Wind

After a lost weekend spent infiltrating Thing#1 into London, I was looking forward to getting back to the sanctuary and serenity of a club run, only to have my intentions cruelly dashed by Storm Arwen’s untimely arrival on these shores.

With the wind howling through the trees, filling the air with all manner of flying debris and detritus and hurling spiteful handfuls of rain to rattle against the windows, I might yet have ventured out first thing Saturday morning, but I woke to find our water supply had been cut off and that seemed a solid enough excuse to send me scurrying back to a still-warm bed.

In the event, we had the smallest club run that’s physically possible, with just two brave souls daring to venture out au vélo. (I contend that any less and it would officially have been a solo ride.) So hats-off, but straight-jackets on for our dynamic duo of G-Dawg and Brassneck. I’ve convinced myself they spent half the ride telling each other it was all perfectly fine and if they’d realised just how warm it was beforehand, they both would have worn shorts.

Another mild inconvenience for me was the Trek was still with my LBS for some much needed TLC after years of neglect and hard pedalling. This involved a new bottom bracket, headset, brake cables and chain and finally a replacement for the rear cog. Over time I’d manage to wear this latter item sharp enough so that I could have adopted it as a makeshift shuriken. (You know, in the event of a zombie apocalypse, or some other civilisation ending catastrophe). Anyway, this meant if I was going out it would have to be astride the unloved Peugeot and, to be honest, I just wasn’t feeling it.

A week later and the strong winds of Storm Arwen had thankfully passed, but not before leaving a noticeable and notable mark on the countryside. The sides of the road were littered with leaves and broken branches and down almost every country lane we found multiple raw tree stumps and broad swathes of sawdust from where fallen and damaged trees had been cut down and hauled away. The National Trust site at Wallington Hall near Morpeth, alone reported the loss of “thousands of trees” in what was described as “worst destruction caused by a storm in 40 years.”

This Saturday promised to be calmer, but just as c-c-c-cold and while temperatures weren’t low enough to have to worry about ice, the wind chill kept them down to low single-figures and prompted me to go for the full-on cold-weather gear. So back to the trusty Thermolite socks, thick overshoes, tights, headband and Galibier Colombière quilted jacket. This is insulated enough that I could get away with just a light base-layer and short-sleeved jersey underneath (and even then, the jersey was only needed so I had some pockets to stash bits and bobs in.)

I pondered whether it was cold enough to justify the mighty lobster mitts, but decided to just go for heavier gloves. It was a decision I regretted briefly, halfway through my ride across when my thumbs went numb, but they finally recovered enough that I felt comfortable. The opposite held true for G-Dawg, who ended up removing his lobster mitts and engaging in a bare-knuckle contest with the cold for the last hour before the café, as he was seriously overheating.

The bike was back too and running silky smooth and near silently. Astride it about the only thing I can hear is the slight whisk of tyres kissing tarmac. The only issue I had was the LBS only had a 15t cog to hand to replace my worn one. I’d had them fit that instead of delaying further to order in a new 14t one, reasoning it probably wouldn’t make all that much difference and even if it did, it was an easy fix I could handle myself. Theoretically, getting up hills would be slightly easier, but I was a bit concerned about what it might do to my top-end speed.

Over the river and starting the long, meandering climb up toward Denton Burn, I spotted a couple of cyclists toiling uphill ahead of me, an incentive to test my legs and see if I could catch them. Mission accomplished, as the road straightened toward the crest, I passed the first one.

“Good morning,” I called out chirpily, desperately trying to sound nonchalant and not at all out of breath.

“Jesus Christ!” the rider shrieked back in shocked surprise, obviously startled by my sudden, silent appearance on her shoulder.

“Sorry!” I called back as I slipped past her companion, who was now struggling to ride through his laughter.

Oops! Note to self – the bike is really, really quiet.

I made it to the meeting point without terrifying anyone else, where the usual madness enfolded: Crazy Legs danced around some to “Eye of the Tiger” – we know not why, G-Dawg entertained us relating his encounter last week with a teeny, tiny, vociferously swearing jockey, futilely engaged trying to help workmen move a massive fallen tree from the road because he was running late and supposed to be riding the 12.20 steeplechase at Newcastle Racecourse and OGL, castigated us for failing to sign up for his veteran cyclist get-together, despite the fact we were only ever invited as an afterthought once he realised the numbers didn’t quite stack up.

Buster briefed in the route and got set to lead the first group out. There was then an unseemly scramble to join him, which was in danger of leaving a seriously undermanned second group. This forced G-Dawg to invoke his special, super-hero power – the Teacher’s Voice – to bring order to chaos. Not heard since his retirement, but an ability he still retains full command of, it worked on unruly and recalcitrant pupils back then and worked just as well un unruly and recalcitrant cyclists now, as he quickly shamed Carlton and Cowboys out of their attempt to try and sneak away and join the front group.

Our second group finally got underway, 6 of us temporarily bolstered by the Flat White devotees who were already looking forward to their first coffee-stop of the day.

I slotted in for a spell beside Taffy Steve to hear how he’d survived the depredations of Storm Arwen (largely intact except for one fence panel smashed to flinders) but he reported the weather had been particularly spectacular, with boiling, raging seas all along the coast.

Our Flat White bretheren departed around Kirkley and we pressed on, catching sight of our first group up ahead and then, as they were seriously handicapped by Buster’s minuscule bladder, passing them when they were forced to stop for a pee break.

We dragged our way up to Dyke Neuk and paused long enough for the first group to join us. G-Dawg invited them to lead out again, so rightful order was fully restored and we got an extra minutes rest too.

The minor impediments of Hartburn and Middleton Bank were dispensed with and I took to the front alongside Cowboys as we started the long burn for the café. All good, except I was soon on the absolute limit, as I struggled to push past 35kph, my legs were a ridiculous spinning blur and I was scared of looking down in case they were smoking.

I wish I could treat the loss or gain of just a single tooth with the same aplomb as recently shown by Tevita Tuliʻakiʻono Tuipulotu Mosese Vaʻhae Fehoko Faletau Vea, but it’s not to be. I never would have thought the addition of just one extra tooth at the back would make such a difference, but I’m going to have to revert back to the 14t cog.

Luckily, I managed to hold on until the road finally started to rise and a more seemly cadence could be established and then pushed past the final bend before sliding across to try and recover while everyone else darted past to contest the sprint.

At the café, before donning a facemask, I stripped off my gloves, helmet and headband, revealing, much to the delight of Crazy Legs, a very bad case of helmet-hair, what I assume was a ridiculous fin standing up to attention across the top of my head. I joined the back of a very long, very slow-moving queue to jeers of “baby shark!” while I tried to batter my errant hair down into something slightly less preposterous.

On sitting down I then became embroiled in the deep, philosophical question that had seemingly been exorcising the Flat White Club throughout their entire ride: Is it possible to fart while actively pedalling a bike?

Crazy Legs believed he had amply demonstrated this ability out on the road, but Taffy Steve contended that the squeaking, squelching noise he’d heard could have come from any part of Crazy Legs’ anatomy, if not indeed from his bike itself. He seemed particularly disappointed by the volume of the flatus, although I wasn’t sure if his protest was related to the millilitres, or decibels that had been produced. In an attempt to adjudicate, I suggested that a fart is a fart.

“Anyway,” I asked, “What were you expecting an excerpt from Flight of the Bumblebee, Trumpet Voluntary or something?”

Taffy Steve remained unconvinced and I’m sure this one will … err … rumble on.

The fact that one of Sting’s former bandmates (and a former club member) would be engaged to play at OGL’s veteran cyclist reunion that evening, gave Taffy Steve the opportunity to vent about just how dull, joyless, self-absorbed and pompous Mr. Sting appears to be these days. Then he had us guess at how much you’d need to pay to secure a ticket to see Sting play live at the London Palladium next year. Even our wildest guesses came nowhere close to tickets that range in price from an outrageous £387 in the “cheap” seats, to a frankly unbelievable £1,905!

As well as being a conspicuously dull man, Taffy Steve demanded to know if Sting had ever written a good, solo song “other than that alien one.”

“Russians?” I suggested.

“Oh yeah, I quite like that one,” Taffy Steve conceded, “So, name me a good Sting song other than Russians and that alien one?”

“Fields of Gold,” Crazy Legs volunteered.

“Okay, other than Russians, Fields of Gold and that alien one, name me a good Sting song?”

“If You Love Somebody Set Them Free?” someone else came up with.

“Okay, okay, other than Russians, Fields of Gold, If You Love Somebody Set Them Free and that alien one …”

“If I Ever Lose My Faith in You…”

Taffy Steve sighed, deeply troubled.

Meanwhile, one table along, the Chinese FNG who’d joined us for the first time that morning had brought one of his wheels into the café and was quietly working to fix a puncture. He seemed happy enough just getting on with it, but OGL declared he does “about 80 puncture repairs a day” and couldn’t resist “lending a hand.” You’d think someone who spends what must be at least half of their entire working life apparently changing tyres would welcome a break from same, but apparently not.

Looking on, Crazy Legs wondered how I’d be able to assign the Chinese kid a pseudonym in the blerg without offending the gods of political correctness, or insulting an entire nation of 1.4 billion people. He then decided that I wouldn’t need to, as the kid’s name was already cool enough and is apparently Cypher. (This is according to a quick conversation the two had had at the meeting point and based on the assumption that Crazy Legs both heard correctly and remembered the details. I’m not sure we can trust either of these faculties – just ask Still Nick and Not Anthony.)

While we blethered on, Captain Black followed a dad and small child toward the toilet where it looked like a prolonged nappy change was the order of the day in the men’s cubicle. Captain Black dutifully waited, but was still there 5 minutes later, when I suggested the toilets were pretty much non-binary and he might as well use the ladies cubicle. Naturally, as soon as he decided I was perhaps-probably right and disappeared inside, a stern-looking, middle-aged matron appeared and, much to our delight, followed him into the lobby.

Sometime later an abashed Captain Black emerged looking suitably chastened and admitting he’d been subject to “that look” the one only women can achieve that can easily shrivel a man’s soul and remind him of just how base and worthless he is. We naturally thought the entire episode was quite hilarious.

Outside once again and heading home, I caught up with Brassneck, who insisted the 60-70mph winds last week weren’t all that bad, as they were constant rather than gusting! I suggested he wasn’t really selling the ride particularly well. He then revealed that both he and G-Dawg had suffered a series of punctures late on, had limped through to the cafe at Kirkley and then both had phoned home for a lift back. So, there you have it, not only the smallest club run in history but the only one with a 100% abandonment rate too!

With Brassneck pondering how much of a mess the lane through from Kirkley to Berwick Hill might be following the passing of Storm Arwen, I decided I was tired enough that I didn’t want to find out, so gave it a miss and I left the group to route through Ponteland and shave a few miles off my trip home.


Day & Date:Saturday 4th December 2021
Riding Time:101km/63 miles with 950m of climbing
Riding Distance:4 hours 20 minutes
Average Speed:23.2km/h
Group Size:24 riders, 1 FNG’s
Temperature:4℃
Weather in a word or two:Mean spirited
Year to Date:4,609km/2,864 miles with 49,393m of climbing


Absolutely Conkers

Absolutely Conkers

Another Saturday, another club ride, but I have to admit I just wasn’t feeling it. The legs felt tired and heavy right from the outset. Dropping down the hill and pushing out along the valley, I think I spent as much time looking at my legs as the road ahead, as if I could somehow visually discern what the problem was and, even more ridiculously, somehow fix it.

As I rode over the bridge even the river below seemed perplexed and worried by my struggles, wearing a wrinkled frown of consternation instead of its usual glassy smooth surface. Oh well, no turning back now.

I arrived at the meeting point in time to see a nowadays rare gathering of the Judean People’s Front. Interestingly, TripleD-Be and TripleD-El both arrived together, but he was soon waving her off cheerily as she hooked up with the JPF, while TripleD-Be joined our regulars, who were already chuckling at this display.

“I like her,” TripleD-Be started to explain, then paused.

“But …” Crazy Legs and G-Dawg continued for him, around their delighted laughter.

“We don’t have to do everything together.”

TripleD-Be explained that if they both rode in the same group, they’d then have the exact same ride and so it wouldn’t be worth talking about. This way they were guaranteed to have two completely different experiences.

This led to a rather serious (for us anyway) discussion of how difficult it must be to be in a long-term relationship with a work colleague, sharing so much time together, and then how awkward it would be if that relationship failed. This reminded me of seeing a Kurt Vonnegut lecture tour at the Tyneside Cinema (February 1983. Yikes, that’s in the previous century!) when he claimed that he’d been married twice as long as normal people as, being a writer who worked exclusively from home, he spent all day, most days with his wife.

Crazy Legs reported that the inaugural Flat White Club ride had been a great success although he had been slightly perturbed by one café sign that read …

  • Children Welcome
  • Hikers Welcome
  • Dogs Welcome
  • Cyclists Welcome

… and wondered how we ended up so low down in the hierarchy.

Today was to be its second iteration and he’d even developed a hand signal so FWC members could secretly communicate their intent and allegiance, a kind of Ted Roger’s 3-2-1, or Phones-4-U type affair. It could catch on, just probably not with the kids.

Our route came courtesy of Buster, but he’d fooled us by lurking at the back in an unregulated non-official jersey, rather than the official, non-official jersey. For one brief moment, Crazy Legs thought he was going to have to step up and be a Proxy Buster, but the rightful ride architect finally surfaced to brief in the route.

Plans to return to the café at Capheaton were dashed due to its closure, but OGL assured us Belsay had reinstated their free refill policy, so that was our destination.

With Ion putting in a rare appearance and spearheading the front group, it was fairly certain only the hardened racing snakes would be tempted to join up, but we still managed to shuffle our numbers into 3 fairly decently sized clumps. I bumped down the kerb to join Group 2 and away we went.

I found myself riding alongside Brassneck, convinced it was still shorts weather. I remained sceptical and then warned him he’d better make the most of it as the Daily Heil had briefly paused terrifying its readership with the spectre of an invasion of illegal immigrants, to scare them with tales of an encroaching Arctic blast instead, replete with heavy blizzards, nose-diving temperatures and Christmas chaos and misery.

“What,” Brassneck retorted phlegmatically, “Again?”

“Yes,” I assured him, “And it must be true, as the bookies have apparently slashed the odds on us having a white Christmas.”

“What,” he countered, “Again?”

Yep. I can’t help feeling the Daily Heil has a calendar reminder that pings every three months or so and tells them it’s time they pulled together yet another scare-story about life-threatening, extreme weather that was heading our way imminently … definitely … well … maybe … perhaps.

Approaching Mitford we took the left turn up toward Molesden for a change and I found myself on the front with Mini Miss as we charged past the farm where the dog that hated Crazy Legs used to lie in wait to ambush him. Don’t get me wrong, it actually hated all cyclists, but for some unknown reason, especially Crazy Legs, so we always felt safer with him in our number to deflect its aggression.

It was so bad Mini Miss said she would often deliberately avoid this road and its crazed canine guardian and, though it used to be a regular occurrence, it had been a long time since it featured on any of our routes. Now the farmyard was eerily quiet, apart from a fat cat asleep atop the wall next to the empty dog kennel, proof I guess that our once-nemesis must now be off chasing cyclists in doggy-heaven. Perhaps it’s safe to build this road back into our plans again?

By the time we hit Middleton Bank my legs were starting to protest and made heavy work of the ascent, but I took up the pace on the front for the final push to the café. I even managed a brief acceleration over the rollers and led everyone up the last drag, before they all bustled past in search of sprint glory.

We caught up with the Flat White Club in the café queue, were served and were heading toward the obviously vacant seats beside a glowering OGL, only to be diverted by Crazy Legs who suggested it was pleasant enough for us to have one final sit of the year outside in the garden.

Here we dissected OGL’s recent reminiscence about riding down the Twisties at 40mph while playing conkers, concluding that it was maybe, perhaps ever so slightly embellished and exaggerated and didn’t stand up to scrutiny. Who knows, maybe OGL was a Daily Heil journalist in a former life?

Speaking of exaggeration and embellishment, Taffy Steve was quick to point out that the story of conkers being banned from schoolyards on Health and Safety grounds was another bit of scare-mongering fabrication.

By then it was time to test if the café would live up to the promise of free coffee refills and the once-spurned, never forgiven G-Dawg was obviously keener than most to test this out. He retrieved a tray and loaded it up with all our mugs, then went out of his way to find more. Anyone at another table, cyclist or not? Yes, why not. Tea-drinkers who’d drained their pots and even those that hadn’t? Yes, why not. Visitors who long since abandoned their mugs on the table and departed? Yes, why not them too. He soon had a full, clinking, clanking tray and disappeared inside, ready to do battle for his just and righteous cause …

Yes, he returned with our free refills.

(And yes, I can exaggerate with the best of them.)

As we left the cafe I found Spoons minutely inspecting his wheels to try and decide if there was any part of the wear indicator still visible. He convinced himself there was the faintest discernible trace of a line around his brake track and reassured, away we went (although I suspect a new set of wheels will be on his wishlist).

On the way back I found the descent of Berwick Hill had suddenly become one of the hardest parts of the ride, with speeds pushing over 25mph and no ability to shift into a bigger gear, I ended up kicking furiously for a few revs, then freewheeling, then kicking again to try and maintain the high pace.

A couple of young racing snakes hit the front as we came off the climb and the speed shot right up – I know this because I somehow managed to pick up a Strava PB as we rushed through Dinnington. I hung on grimly through the long drag around the airport, but as we crested the hill and the road dipped down toward the mad mile, it became too fast and I eased and drifted back to let my burning legs recover before starting the solo ride home a little earlier than usual.

Next week I’ll be transporting Thing#1 to London, where she’s decided to live for a while, so no ride and plenty of time to recover. It’s also given me the opportunity to drop the Trek into Patrick at the Brassworks for some much-needed, long overdue maintenance, so perhaps I’ll feel like a new man on a new bike when I return?

Yeah, I’m not holding my breath either …


Day & Date:Saturday 13th November 2021
Riding Time:115km/71 miles with 1,069m of climbing
Riding Distance:4 hours 44 minutes
Average Speed:24.3km/h
Group Size:22 riders, no FNG’s
Temperature:9℃
Weather in a word or two:Mild-mannered Clark Kent
Year to Date:4,427km/2,751 miles with 47,141m of climbing


Photo by Izabella Bedu0151 on Pexels.com

Plague Diaries Week#60 – Fish-Tickling, Arse-Foaming, Rain-Sodden, Bone-Chilling Purgatory

Plague Diaries Week#60 – Fish-Tickling, Arse-Foaming, Rain-Sodden, Bone-Chilling Purgatory

Well the weather forecast predicted wall-to-wall heavy rain and a gusting winds that would gradually get worse throughout the day, but Saturday morning was just a bit grey and damp and I was starting to hope the meteorologists had got this one badly wrong. Nevertheless, I was riding out with my most waterproof rain jacket and a spare pair of gloves in my back pocket, cap and overshoes to top and tail my preparations and (the indignity of) clip on mudguards strapped to the Holdsworth.

Despite the less than ideal conditions I must have been keen as I found myself closing in on the meeting point 20 minutes too early, so took a detour around the houses to fill in some time. Arriving back at the meeting point (still ridiculously early) I shuffled into the gloom of the underground car park to wait. Hmm, no JPF riders this week, they’ll get a reputation as fair weather cyclists if they keep this up.

Numbers started to build as the rain became just a little bit more insistent and I pulled on my jacket in preparation for heading out again. Aether had planned the route and it was time to go down by the riverside (I expect a clapped response!)

We knew OGL wouldn’t follow, but there was still enough willing to use the planned route for 3 or 4 separate groups. We formed a quick, first six and pushed out before the usual 9:15 start, leaving even as others were still trickling in and I found myself on the front alongside Caracol and in a group also containing Jimmy Mac, Biden Fecht, Spoons and James III.

As well as our annual, “guess the most improbable winner of the Giro d’Italia competition” (I swear no one would have picked either Tao Geoghegan Hart or Jai Hindley last year), Caracol was pondering that other Gordian Knot of a question – when we’d be able to travel abroad safely. He said the girls in his office had been getting excited at all the talk of traffic lights indicating safe travel areas, but had been hugely disappointed when none of Ibiza, Zante, Torremolinos, or Benidorm featured.

We tried to work through some of the available options for cycling trips, but aside from Portugal, these seemed limited. Iceland? Possibly even colder and wetter than North East England. Ascension Island? The temperature doesn’t drop below 20ºC and it seldom rains, but it’s not renowned for good roads (they have place names like Breakneck Valley f.f.s.) and access is a bit of an issue, being nothing more than a tiny speck in the middle of the Atlantic over a thousand miles from the coast of Africa one way, and South America the other.

That only seemed to leave the Falkland Islands, a little more developed than Ascension, if a slightly off-putting 8,000 miles distant. We determined we could probably get a group of 5 or 6 cyclists interested, which would quadruple annual tourism to the islands in one fell swoop, but then the average daily temperature of the warmest months, January and February (which have already past), is only about 10 °C and it’s rainy and windy as well. Yeah, perhaps we’d best wait a little while longer …

Some seat of the pants navigating took us out past the airport and through Darras Hall. On the climb up to Stamfordham Road, the rain got a little heavier and Caracol stopped to don a jacket. When we got moving again, Jimmy Mac and Biden Fecht took over on the front and I dropped to the back with Caracol, who was already planning to ship and stow his jacket “as soon as this rain eases a little.” He’s nothing if not optimistic.

We dropped down into the Tyne Valley via Wylam and I found myself on the front again, this time alongside Jimmy Mac as we followed the river westward. It had taken a while, but the rain had finally breached my overshoes, my socks were becoming cold, wet and heavy and feeling was fleeing my toes. Just past the bridge at Stocksfield, we struck out north climbing out of the valley, the rest romping ahead while I took the climb at a more leisurely pace. The group had safely threaded their way across the A69 and 4-lanes of fast traffic when I reached the top and they’d pulled up on the other side to regroup and recover. I darted across the road at the first gap in the traffic, rather rudely rolled past them and got to work on the next set of climbs, figuring it was too miserable to hang about and they’d soon catch up.

Over the top I was joined on the front by Jimmy Mac again, as we rattled briefly downhill, then started climbing toward the reservoir. The temperature had dipped beyond chill, the rain was lashing in and the wind had started to seriously gust. It was horrible. It was miserable and even Biden Fecht could only summon up the odd desultory, half-hearted song to keep our spirits up.

I scanned the banks of the reservoir as we battered headlong into the wind and the rain.

“Hmm, no anglers out today? The wimps.”

Through the gloom Jimmy Mac did manage to spot a couple, huddled miserably under flimsy looking rain shelters.

“They must be the hard core,” I suggested, “They probably don’t even use rods.”

“Just a bit of fish tickling before wrangling and wrestling them up onto the bank,” he suggested. I wouldn’t be surprised.

“Are you thinking of a café stop?” he queried some time later.

“Probably not,” I replied.

Probably?

Probably not?

What on earth was I saying? Of course I wasn’t thinking of a café stop, it was madness, what pleasure would we possibly get standing huddled out in a garden, cold and soaked to the skin, drinking tepid coffee and watching cake slowly dissolve in the pouring rain. No, I wasn’t stopping.

Nor was any one else, either and we sped through Stamfordham, past the turn-off for the café without a second glance, now heading straight home. We took a right up through Cheeseburn Grange and I swung off the front with Jimmy Mac, but found an understandable reluctance for anyone to come through. Jimmy Mac took to the front again, but I was done and drifted back through the group.

From here I had the perfect view of James III frothing at the seat pad, like one of Pavlov’s dogs that had unfortunately caught rabies and a bad case of tinnitus at the same time. This rather unsavoury spectacle a salutary lesson in why you should fit mudguards, or at the very least an ass-saver when planning to ride in the rain.

I hung onto the group in grim, stoic silence (which probably isn’t all that distinguishable from my usual anti-social silence) as we crested one last rise, before the road dipped again down Penny Hill. Most of the group swung left, while I kept going, trailing in the wake of James III, but at some distance because I was getting seriously cold on the descent, so kept braking to slow down and ease the wind chill. This had the secondary advantage of taking me out range of any errant flying ass-foam too.

I caught up to James III as the road started to climb again, then, just past the golf course, I turned right as he kept straight on. Usually when I’m tired on a ride I look at red lights as a welcome respite, but conditions were so grim I really hated stopping, so became a bit of an “amber-gambler” and may even have sneaked through a couple of lights that were technically already on stop. Oh well, I’m sure it pleased a few motorists to have their worst perceptions of cyclists confirmed.

Half way down the drop to the river, I stopped for the luxury of changing into my spare pair of blissfully dry gloves. This proved harder than I anticipated. It was a full minute before I could straighten my arms enough to strip off and wring out the wet gloves and then go fishing into my back pockets for their replacements. Then the damp skin and shivering conspired to make pulling them on a Herculean task in its own right. Still, once done the effort seemed worth it, as a little bit of warmth and feeling started to return to my fingers, at least until these gloves too became wet and water-logged.

The ordeal wasn’t quite as bad as descending the Galibier in a full-on thunderstorm but it was close. Finally home, the pile of sodden clothing I discarded on the kitchen floor looked like the dissolved remains of the Wicked Witch of the West and it took an age before I could tell if the shower was cold, a reasonable temperature, or so boiling hot it was in danger of scalding my skin off. Feeling finally returned, along with a bright red blush to all the areas that had been most exposed to the wind, the tops of my thighs in particular adopting a warm radioactive glow.

Perhaps the Falkland Islands isn’t such a bad idea after all?


Ride Distance:91km/56 miles with 962m of climbing
Riding Time:3 hours 57 minutes
Average Speed:23.1km/h
Group Size:6
Temperature:4℃
Weather in a word or two:Purgatory
Year to date:1,387km/862 miles with 14,700m of climbing
Photo by veeterzy on Pexels.com

Plague Diaries Week#58 – Fin de Cycle

Plague Diaries Week#58 – Fin de Cycle

Given (to my mind) the onerous task of devising a route for this week’s ride, at the coffee stop last week Crazy Legs had felt impelled to resurrect our Classic Club Café sprint for next Saturday, over the rollers and up the long drag to Belsay. He even suggested stopping at the café there for old time’s sake. I happened to mention, for some misguided reason, that I was feeling nostalgic for Middleton Bank, a climb I hadn’t suffered on for at least a year and, hey presto, he had the bones of a route. A quick double-check to ensure the café at Belsay would actually be open for business and Crazy Legs went away to fill in the rest of the ride and post it up for people to accept or ignore, depending on their inclination.

With the Holdsworth still undergoing remedial surgery and not wanting to waste another good day riding the heavy winter bike, I had a week to find and secure a replacement mount. Surprisingly, this proved considerably easier than I imagined, when Gumtree directed me to a nearly new, barely ridden velocipede in the care of a 77-year old cyclist whose knees had given out and prevented him from riding.

So, for a few hundred quid, I’m now the owner of what is (solely in my estimation, of course) Halford’s most aesthetically pleasing creation, an Intuition 13 Alpha, from a very brief time when the UK’s biggest and possibly most maligned motorist discount store was dabbling in (semi-)performance bikes. I do seem to have an penchant for picking up a manufacturers fin de cycle products (if you’ll excuse the pun.) The Intuition range is no longer manufactured, while the Holdsworth Stelvio was one of the last frames produced by that venerable company before they caved and were acquired by Planet-X. Even my winter bike, the Peugeot CR23 was part of a 2 bike range they pulled together for the briefest of ill-founded forays back into the UK market, via an exclusive deal with Evans that only seemed to have lasted 12 months.

Where the Holdsworth is the epitome of gaudy overstatement, a violent clash of glossy black, red and yellow, with the brand name unforgivably and inexplicably plastered a dozen times across its frame, the chalk-white 13 is at the opposite extreme, a model of simplistic minimalism, the most striking feature being an odd, inversed 13 “dossard” stuck on the back of the seat post. It adds nothing and I’m not sure I like it, but has survived. For now.

The bike was in mint condition, having been ridden only twice in anger and pretty much ready to roll. I switched out the stock 23mm Vittoria Zafiro’s for my favoured 25mm Rubino’s and will eventually get round to replacing the SPD’s for my usual Look Keo pedals and, maybe the wheels (although the current set seem light, roll well and are carefully colour coordinated). Still, minor details aside, there was nothing to prevent its debut and participation in the club run on Saturday.

The same can’t be said for G-Dawg, who, just a few days after this blerg noted how many middle-aged blokes seem to suffer serious injuries playing five-a-side, went out to play five-a-side and broke his leg. Apparently, according to his social media posts, that means he’ll now have to play in goal for his team next week and, possibly worse, he’ll be off the bike for an extended period of time. Yikes!

On Saturday morning, last minute tinkering with this, that and t’other, had me leaving the house half an hour behind schedule, so I had no choice but to engage in a bit of dual-carriageway surfing, cross the river at the nearest bridge and push hard all the way to the meeting point, arriving completely winded, already tired, but almost on time, with Jimmy Mac already leading out the first group of fast-men and racing snakes (the two are not mutually exclusive.)

I paused only long enough to catch OGL offering up a free, used torque wrench to anyone who had a need.

“Is this the same torque wrench you were trying to sell me for a tenner last week?” Goose enquired ruefully. Apparently it was, but that’s as much of the conversation as I caught as I formed up with Aether, who was leading out the second group and away we went. When I finally had time to look back and determine who I was riding with, alongside Aether, I found myself in the company of Spoons and 3 FNG’s.

Up past the Cheese Farm and out through Tranwell, I noticed the rape seed is starting to flower and it’s pervasive and slightly sickly aroma already hung heavy over the lanes.

We dropped down toward the River Wansbeck, by-passing the entrance to the Mur de Mitford to take the gentler climb westward out of the valley. Then it was through Dyke Neuk to the dip and rise through Hartburn.

We knew somewhere along this route we were supposed to take a secret turn onto a road that had been on our routes a few times, but no one I’ve been with has ever found. Aether had prepared for this test in advance, tracing our proposed route on Google maps, before switching to the satellite view to try and spot an obvious landmark that could guide us.

“I managed to spot a big, round thing,” he told me.

“Sounds promising.”

“I thought so too, so I zoomed in for a closer look.”

“Ah-ha.”

“It was a tree…”

“Oh. Right-o. So we’re looking for a tree then? Well, that certainly narrows things down.”

Still, somehow Aether managed to pick the right tree out of the hundreds of thousands that lined our route and we traversed the secret road before pushing on to Scot’s Gap. A left turn onto the still incredibly crappy road surface and we were heading straight for Middleton Bank. Off the back, heavy-legged and struggling upwards, I seriously started to question my own sanity and what it was about the climb that had inexplicably created a sense of longing to relive the experience.

Still, once over the climb, I managed to coax a little more speed out of the legs and we coalesced as a single group again and hauled ass for the café. Here at least there were patches and strips of new road surface, making a welcome change and encouraging a little more speed. I attacked over the rollers – you know, just because – and found Aether jumping at the same time. Hmm, maybe I’m becoming predictable. Then we re-grouped on the descent and started the long drag up to the café, more or less in formation and at a relatively sedate pace. On the front alongside one of the FNG’s I nudged my wheel slightly ahead of his and so, by default, won a sprint he didn’t even know we were contesting. Well, they all count in my book.

We found the Colossus already seated at the café.

“How’s your dad taking his injury?” I enquired, “Already stir crazy and unbearable?”

Unsurprisingly, the answer was yes.

“Even more to the point,” Aether wanted to know, “How’s your mum coping?”

The Colossus just shook his head in quiet resignation. Hmm, not good.

Talking about dangerous sports, one of the FNG’s told us the most violent sport he’d ever witnessed had been a game of football for the blind, played on an enclosed pitch with the players often running full tilt into each other and any inanimate objects, as they chased pell-mell after a ball with a bell inside.

“You should see the mayhem if a pet cat gets loose on the pitch, too!” Another FNG added.

Before leaving I had a chat with Crazy Legs. He’d had a superb great morning riding with OGL and ribbing him mightily every time his expensive Di2 system shipped his chain, which was apparently far too often. We arranged to meet early next week before the ride so I could finally deliver him his new jersey. This might stop his constant carping, but I seriously doubt it.

Then it was time to go and as our group left the table it seemed to signal a mass exodus and we all gathered in the car park as a small, white car pulled up. The passenger side door swung fully open and out came a shiny, metal crutch. Then another. And then a foot in a plaster cast and finally, G-Dawg slowly and awkwardly emerged. He can’t ride, but Mrs G-Dawg had agreed to drive him to the café in an attempt to stop his constant sulking.

Saluting G-Dawg had us all bunched together leading the café, so I injected a bit of pace on Berwick Hill to break us up. The fast group took the opportunity to zip past near the top and gave me a target to chase and I was able to go full pelt with absolutely no danger of ever closing the gap to them.

Yet another FNG (where are the all coming from) spelled me on the from Dinnington to just past the airport, then I was into the Mad Mile and swinging away for the solo trek home.

The new bike served perfectly, I’m sure the ride wouldn’t have been as enjoyable on the Peugeot, but the chalk-white finish may be a little difficult to maintain, so assuming the Holdsworth is restored to full functionality, the 13 might get the cossetted, Ribble-esque treatment and get to avoid the rain like a hydrophobic cat.


Ride Distance:98km/61 miles with 936m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 0 minutes
Average Speed:24.5km/h
Group Size:6 riders, 3 FNG’s
Temperature:14 ℃
Weather in a word or two:Cool
Year to date:1,179km/733 miles with 12,507m of climbing

Plague Diaries Week#57 – Altered Carbon

Plague Diaries Week#57 – Altered Carbon

With a week off before starting my new job, on Wednesday I played the good clubmate and set up to deliver a batch of new (unofficial) jerseys to four of our number. Door-to-door delivery by dedicated bike courier – now that’s what I call service. Waiting just long enough for the rush hour traffic to die down, the first on my list was the Ticker, which found me staying on the south side of the river, but heading due east and out almost to the coast. Following some disembodied Google navigation in an ear-piece, took me over some pretty rough and broken trails as my route ran along the banks of the Tyne, bouncing over kerbs, tree roots and fractured tarmac, while slaloming around potholes, glittering sprays of broken glass and dimly wandering dogs replete with dimly wandering owners. Seat of the pants stuff, but we made it.

I took up the offer of a coffee al fresco and the Ticker (obviously a man of many hidden talents) noted he would have whipped up a batch of fresh scones if I hadn’t arrived quite so early. He had already provided the highlight of the Classic’s Season when, on our WhatsApp bike racing group chat, I’d wondered how Kasper Asgren felt finding himself in the decisive move at the Tour of Flanders, but sandwiched between Mathieu Van der Poel and Wout Van Aert. “Like a bloke who’s just realised he’s sharing a taxi with the Kray twins,” the Ticker had aptly suggested. Now he was in contention not only for Comeback Comment of the year, but for Cyclist’s Coffee Stop of the Year, albeit a little too far out of the way to become a regular fixture on our club runs.

[Major hat tip to Kasper Asgren by the way, for managing to outwit and outmuscle both MVP and WVA and take a quite stunning and unexpected (to me, anyway) victory.]

From the Tickers abode, I tracked back west toward the city, dropping down to the river before crossing the Millennium Bridge and climbing out the other side, skirting the city centre to drop off point 2. I handed over the jersey picked up my bike by the stem and saddle … and found myself holding two separate bits of bike, my seatpost having silently crumbled just below the clamp. Naturally it had broken in the worst possible place, with the ragged remains of the pin sat 5mm deep in the frame and leaving nothing to grip to pull it out. I had to abandon my mission, leaving both Biden Fecht and Crazy Legs shirtless, call my own personal voiture balai and deposit the bike in LBS to see if it can be rescued or will need to be trashed.

With the weekend approaching I was left with a choice of riding the Frankenstein single-speed, or lumpen Peugeot, although it wasn’t a long debate once I saw Buster’s planned route, with it’s smattering of climbs, including the Mur de Mitford and the Trench. Heavy or not, at least the Peugeot had the advantage of a choice of gears. Although Aether’s Bianchi had survived last weeks mishap, his rear mech was smashed and had snapped several spokes as it tore loose, so his good bike would also be hors combat for the weekend. He too was planning on riding his heavy winter bike, so we agreed to ride together and hopefully avoid any fast groups or racing snakes.

At the moment we seem caught in a repeating cycle of weather characterised by below freezing nights and brilliantly bright, but deathly chill days. Saturday was to be no different. This shockingly-cold-to-moderately-cool pattern meant the Golidlocks ‘just right’ layering formula was especially problematic and even pushed one uncertain FNG to post on Facebook to seek clothing advice. The girls in the club found this highly amusing as they had previously thought they were the ones seeking fashion tips and arranging clothing coordination. Naturally the range of advice to the FNG went from my gloves, jersey, jacket, cap, buff, tights and overshoes, to G-Dawgs shorts and short-sleeved jersey only – so wide as to be be utterly useless.

On Saturday morning I made my own best guess at the right number of layers and clothing combinations, but the descent off the Heinous Hill had me shivering and convinced I’d badly misjudged. It wasn’t until I was climbing out the other side of the valley that I began to feel comfortable.

Even being thrown onto the winter bike hadn’t lessened my enthusiasm for the untarnished novelty of another group ride and I was out early and at the meeting place well before 9.00. There I found the clubs latest splinter cell about to head out on their own ride, with the Prof tagging along and so confirming the scurrilous rumours that he’d split from the Backstreet Boys. A sizeable dozen or so left, leaving those of us not yet in open rebellion at the club hierarchy scattered on a suddenly empty pavement, like flotsam from a receding tide.

Once the splinter cell had departed, we opted for a more discrete presence, so reconvened under the eaves of the multi-storey car park and out of the public gaze. With cyclists being figures of hate as it is, we don’t need any unwarranted criticism for being perceived to be flouting COVID distancing rules too.

It was here that perhaps the strangest FNG yet (a surprisingly high bar!) introduced himself. Clad in just a skin-tight, long-sleeved base layer, skinny jeans and trainers, he declared a new found love for cycling and a desire to solve the eternal conundrum of how you clip in to clipless pedals, as well as learn how to “get aero.” (I assume he meant his riding position and not the popular bubbly chocolate confectionery, but who knows?) He tailed off by suggesting he’d been building up the length of his rides and was now managing “about 4 miles at a time.” I was hoping I’d misheard that last statement, but didn’t wait to clarify as we now had an agreed first group and the winter-bike brigade of Aether and me rode out, along with an escort of fast-movers comprising Crazy Legs, Not Anthony and one of last Sunday’s FNG’s.

Stopped at the first set of lights, we saw route planner and nominal ride leader Buster just approaching, so we barracked him for his tardiness, feigned ignorance about the route and peppered him with questions – is it right here, or left? Where are we going again? Which way? etc. Well, we thought it was funny …

Out of the roads, we found Crazy Legs on fine form and in full human jukebox mode. “Construction Time(?)” gave way to “Into the Groove” after he pulled the FNG back for three-quarter wheeling and was met with the excuse that the FNG was just “in the groove.” This then morphed into Kool & the Gang’s “Groove Tonight.” Carefully picking our way around a Dove’s Building Materials lorry delivering supplies, he eschewed the obvious, more rumbunctious “Wings of a Dove” for “When Doves Cry,” prompting a deep philosophical discussion about whether doves can actually cry and if they do, do they make a sound. (Personally, I think they’re most likely to be silent weepers, but if anyone does know, drop me a line). “When Doves Cry” segued seamlessly into “Purple Rain” and then numerous others as Crazy Legs declared the best thing about riding in groups again (as well as an appreciative audience for his warbling) was the fact that he had enough stimulus to ensure he never got stuck with a single bad song on permanent repeat.

In this way the miles slipped past until we were approaching the short, sharp Mur de Mitford and I was discussing with Crazy Legs the merits of not warning the FNG about what was just ahead, hoping he might take on the climb in the big ring so we could watch his knees explode halfway up. Perhaps luckily, our evil intentions were thwarted as Not Anthony let the cat out of the bag, outlining a climb of less than half a kilometre but at an average of 7% and a 14% max. In part it’s brutality is predicated on the fact it’s accessed directly from a sharp left junction which robs you of all momentum and its rough, yet conversely slippery surface.

At the top, all knees mercifully still intact, we regrouped and decided to miss out the planned loop around Croftside, pushing out along the more direct route to Pigdon before scaling the Trench. I dropped to the back as we started the climb, riding alongside Aether and shouting abuse at those skipping ahead of us on their lightweight summer bikes.

Again we regrouped over the top for the run to Dyke Neuk then cut through Meldon, Whalton and Ogle and on to the café at Kirkley.

At the café we were astonished to find NO QUEUE, a fact which which we simply couldn’t process, so ended up dutifully waiting behind two blokes even though they insisted several times that were just leaving and weren’t waiting to be served. Finally realising that there really wasn’t a queue, we took full advantage of our luck and were served and seated in quick order and primed to welcome in our other 6-man groups as they rolled up one by one.

“Nice top that,” Crazy Legs greeted everyone wearing one of the new jersey’s, “Wish I had one of them,” he said wistfully, while pointedly looking at me. Bastard.

The FNG surprised us by understanding a reference to “classic” (i.e. old and creaking) children’s TV and we learnt he was in fact a big fan of Gerry Anderson and Captain Scarlet in particular. We wondered whether a Captain Black would still be allowed these days, or would be substituted for a Captain BAME, while I felt a Captain Rainbow was probably needed to cover off the LGBTQ community too. Then the whole premise of the show, with the Mysterons as belligerently evil and vengeful arch enemies was dissected in the light of the first episode when it was the humans who destroyed the peaceful Mysteron settlement on Mars completely without provocation. This absurdity was nothing, we felt, in comparison to the design of the SHADO interceptor from the show UFO, with its single big fuck-off missile attached to the nose cone. None of us could work out what the correct procedure was if confronted by 2 or more opposing UFO’s at a time, when you only carried the chance to destroy one of them.

G-Dawg arrived with his group (“Nice jersey that,” Crazy Legs complimented him) and we learned his latest road rash injury wasn’t caused by a bike fall, but the artificial turf of a five a side pitch. (I know more middle-aged blokes who have suffered serious injury playing five-a-side than all other sports combined.) I wondered how many (allegedly) carcinogenic and toxic pellets he’d managed to collect in the wound and he admitted the cleaning had hurt more than the actual injury.

Crazy Legs recalled his worst injury was coming of a holiday rental scooter face first and skinning both his palms, wounds, I suggested, that probably enforced celibacy on him for a fortnight.

G-Dawg related that no matter how hard he tried he was always trailing the pellets from the artificial pitches into the house and even though he took of his socks and shoes and dusted himself down, he always woke up in the morning to find a pile of them in his bed. Going for a brace of sexually related insults, I suggested they probably got caught up in his wrinkly old scrotum … and then ride-planner Buster arrived with the last group to save me attempting a hat-trick of insults.

Buster got served and wandered over with a frothy coffee (froffee coffee?) plonked himself down on a nearby chair and started waxing lyrical about the bit of his route that we’d avoided, which he said has a new, super-smooth tarmac surface that has to be experienced to be believed. He got quite animated in his advocacy of the the road, started waving his arms about and sloshed coffee out of his cup and onto his crotch, where it quickly spread to form a unfortunately placed, hugely unsightly and highly suspect frothy, creamy stain.

“Whoa,” Crazy Legs observed, “That stretch of road really, really does excite you.”

We seemed to have been sitting around, enjoying the warm sun and talking garbage for an age, but eventually it was time to leave. Crazy Legs went off to route home through Saltwick, most the other went for Berwick Hill, while I took a solo ride out through Ponteland and home. Climbing the last, steepest ramps of the Heinous Hill sometine later, a frazzled Mum, pushing a heavy looking pram began berating her two young offspring who were lagging behind and complaining about the slope. “Eee, howay,” she admonished “Yoo’ze lottar fastah than me.”

As I struggled past, I couldn’t help thinking that seemed like a suitable tagline I should adopt for all my future cycling exploits.

Ride Distance:102km/63 miles with 1,129m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 10 minutes
Average Speed:24.4km/h
Group Size:5 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature:14 ℃
Weather in a word or two:Cool
Year to date:1,081km/672 miles with 11,571m of climbing
Photo by LEONARDO VAZQUEZ on Pexels.com

Plague Diaries – Week#22

Plague Diaries – Week#22

Seven Nation Army

What a mizzly, horrible start to the day. The cloud was low over the hills, weeping fine drizzle in enough volume that I kicked a rooster tail of spray off my rear wheel descending the Heinous Hill and received a most unwelcome and unpleasant, early morning douche for my troubles.

Eech.

I’d gone for the lightest jacket I own, reasoning I’d be able to to ditch it fairly early on in the ride, if the weather forecast was to be believed. It served its purpose and I was grateful for the extra layer of protection for what turned out to be a fairly miserable start to proceedings.

I arrived at the meeting point to find the long AWOL Taffy Steve, not fully recovered from his rotator cuff injury, but keen to start riding again. As he said, the power data didn’t lie and he now had all the strength of an anorexic, pre-pubescent at the end of a long fast. (And with none of the accompanying weight advantages either.) The Red Max and Mrs. Max have started running a well-received starters group parallel to our standard runs and Taffy Steve had been persuaded this would be the perfect re-introduction to group rides.

Various complaints about the weather in August led someone to claim that it was actually the wettest month in the North East of England, an assertion that failed to win much support. Post-ride research suggests the wettest month is actually November which has 10mm, more precipitation than August. To be fair though, with 60mm of rain on average, an amount shared with several other months, August is not that far behind. If that wasn’t depressing enough, it seems we also enjoy a rather paltry 1,445 sunshine hours per year. The inference seems to be to make the most of it.

I carefully avoided he front group this week and, when they couldn’t make their numbers add up to the magical, mystical six, it was G-Dawg who bravely stepped forward to take one for the team. I’m sure he made a better fist of it than I did last week.

I looked to be heading out in the third group when, for unknown reasons, the Big Yin pulled out and returned. Careful of another trap, I checked the composition of the second group, Crazy Legs, Aether, Ahlambra, Richard of Flanders and the Ticker. Yeah, I could probably live with that. I pushed up and joined them, filling out the full complement of six and away we went.

Just past Dinnington and pelted by a sudden shower of rain, we stopped to make some adjustments to gear, pulling on jackets arm warmers and gilets. I’d only just ditched the jacket so stood pat.

Moments later, having crested Berwick Hill and heading downhill at pace, the Ticker and Richard of Flanders pulled to a sudden stop and the rest of us whipped past wondering why we were stopping yet again.

We eventually reformed and pressed on, following Aether’s plan that took our standard run home from Belsay and reversed it. On the front with Crazy Legs, passing through Walton, we both stuck out an arm and called “left” before swinging through the turn. Ahlambra and Aether followed, the Ticker tried and found Richard of Flanders in a world of his own and intent on heading straight on. Collision narrowly averted, we amused ourselves (we’re easily amused) for the next few miles calling out directions and then pedantically repeating them several times for our daydreaming colleague.

“Left here. Richard, we’re going left.”

“Left!”

“Right here. Which way are we going Richard?”

“That’s right. Right.”

Riding with Crazy Legs behind the Ticker, we spent time speculating about his pale blue Rapha jersey, proudly emblazoned with Push Cartel, trying to work out if there was some sort of Columbian connection and what it was exactly that they were pushing.

Curiosity became to much for Crazy Legs, so he eventually asked and we learned that Push Cartel was probably the poshest bike shop in the whole of Ambleside (I suspect the claim is justified, as I can’t imagine there’s a lot of competition.)

In fact, it’s probably incorrect to call Push Cartel a bike shop at all. According to their own website it’s actually, “the bespoke cycle atelier of the Lake District” who, if I understand correctly, don’t have stock to sell, but a “carefully curated portfolio of class leading brands.” Yer what?

Mind you, their “curated brands” include Cinelli, Cipollini, Parlee and Look and it was obviously these shiny bling-bikes that had drawn the Ticker, like a moth to the flame, to visit the store. That I could understand, we all like a bit of bike porn, such as the Cipollini RB1K – modestly branded as “The One” and representing as fine an example of bike porn as you’re likely to find:

Still, I really couldn’t say why the Ticker felt the need to buy the Push jersey and be associated with such pretentious marketing claptrap, perhaps it was the price of entry, or maybe exit?

Mention of Cipollini prompted Crazy Legs to ponder turning up at the club time trial in one of the Lion King’s (in)famous skinsuits. I suggested it was more likely someone turned up in a Lion King onesie than a Lion KIng skinsuit and we left it there.

The Lion King in … err. .. tiger stripes?

I pushed onto the front alongside the Ticker as we dropped down “Curlicue Hill” and pushed out along the Font Valley heading toward Mitford. Here I learned our unexpected stop earlier had been caused by a pesky wasp infiltrating the Ticker’s helmet and stinging him on the napper.

Still smarting from the infernal blow, he hadn’t dared look at the damage although Richard of Flander had offered to inspect the wound.

“He probably just wanted to cut a big cross in your head and suck the venom out,” I suggested. “Anyway, if you take your helmet off and your head swells, you’ll never get it back on.”

The aforementioned Richard of Flanders then took over at the front to lead us carefully down the Mur de Mitford, but obviously not carefully enough, as he locked his wheels up on a patch of diesel at the bottom and slid sideways to the bottom of the hill, where he came to a juddering stop just before the junction.

“Which way?” he queried, having regained at least some form of composure and he started to edge toward the left. “Right, Richard, right!” Surely, I thought, we’d done this routine to death already?

We climbed to and through Mitford and up to the Gubeon, which presented us with a straight run through to the cafe rendezvous at Kirkley. With the imagined scent of cake and coffee in the wind, I worked with Crazy Legs and the Ticker, swapping turns on the front to build our pace. Our group of six quickly became five … then four … then there was just the three of us in an exhilarating, long blast to the cafe.

Yee-hah!

There we found Captain Black and Goose, who hadn’t managed to form a group and had ended up riding as a pair, which is fitting as we often project them as an old, married couple. As Captain Black dryly noted, it was also the perfect opportunity for him to ride around and be talked at for a couple of hours.

The Ticker appeared, his head still “knacking” and told us Aether had just pulled the stinger out of his scalp, which suggests he was done-in by a bee rather than a wasp. He may also have been riding around with the stinger continuously dosing him with venom just to keep the the edge on his pain.

Crazy Legs suggested what he needed was a helmet with a bug mesh, marveling how well such a feature can trap a wasp in place, in the perfect position to sting you repeatedly.

We then had one of those entertaining, surreal conversations that started with Crazy Legs listing all the things he stuffs in his jersey pockets, up to, but not excluding an elephant, if he’s to be believed. This led to a discussion about the film Hannibal Brookes, which included a scene where it was claimed elephants couldn’t walk backwards, which reminded Crazy Legs of his claim that horses can only swim in a straight line and that, if you chased them into the North Sea, they’d just have to keep going “until they hit Norway.”

The Hannibal Brookes name check brought recollections of Oliver Reed’s (too numerous to mention) drunken appearances on talk shows, which led in turn to a discussion about George Best, which ended when G-Dawg joined our table and predicted Man City were going to win the Champions League. He must have taken over duff prognostication duties in the absence of the Garrulous Kid as, mere hours after this pronouncement, Man City were duly dumped out of the competition.

With the back of our new jersey’s adorned with twin parallel white stripes, Crazy Legs had us adapt Seven Nation Army as a club anthem. A somewhat bemused Goose recognised the riff we bellowed and banged out on the table, but didn’t know what it was called, or who the artist was.

“Turn around,” Crazy Legs instructed me, then, channeling his inner Roy “Cathphrase” Walker, pointed at my back and urged Goose to “Say what you see, just say what you see”

“Err … skinny ass ugly fecker?” I supplied helpfully.

But Goose was unmoved and sure he could live perfectly happily without knowing who sang Seven Nation Army.

On departing most went left, but I turned right, planning to head through Ponteland and home, but I caught the back of our starters group and tagged along for the ride, up and down Berwick Hill and through Dinnington.

I had a brief chat with the Red Max who declared I was going to have the most leisurely and enjoyable ascent of Berwick Hill ever. And he wasn’t wrong.

Approaching Dinnington a lone cyclist buzzed past the group and I watched and waited for the inevitable. The Red Max’s homing radar whirred a little, then locked on and he kicked off a mad-ass pursuit. Anticipating the inevitable, I dropped onto his wheel and let him tow me across the gap to the lone cyclist, then, as the Red Max sat up to drop back to the group, I just kept going and started my solo ride home.

Plague Diaries – Week#17

Plague Diaries – Week#17

One a Dem

Internet oddity of the week came from reading about a medical scare in late Victorian Britain that saw doctors warning women about the deleterious effect vigorous cycling would have on their health. Apparently, “over-exertion, the upright position on the wheel and the unconscious effort to maintain one’s balance” was thought to cause bicycle face “hard, clenched jaws and bulging eyes” accompanied by “a flushed complexion, with lips more or less drawn, and the beginning of dark shadows under the eyes”.

Most agreed that bicycle face could strike anyone, but women were disproportionately affected. Some implied the effects could be permanent, while others maintained that, given enough time away from a bicycle, it would hopefully subside.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

I decided it was time to bite the bullet and rejoin civilisation, or at least that small portion of civilisation that is (very) loosely embodied in a local cycling club. The hardest part was getting out the door by a set time to get me to the meeting point on schedule. After weeks of a laissez faire, I’ll leave when I’m ready attitude, this was a bit of a shock to the system. Must do better.

Still, I managed somehow and rolled up to the meeting point to find G-Dawg talking to a complete stranger in full Aberdeen University kit, who turned out to be none other than the Garrulous Kid … but all growed-up.

Even more surprising, that elusive, seldom-spotted, Sasquatch-like, Strava-stalker, the BFG was there too and I haven’t seen him out and about on two wheels for over a year. Strange times.

G-Dawg was proudly wearing perhaps one of the gaudiest kits ever inflicted on the pro-peloton, a classic Mapei jersey with it’s jumble of primary coloured cubes, once aptly described by Simon Smythe in Cycling Weekly as “a design that looked like someone had detonated a car bomb beneath a Rubik’s cube.”

He even had Mapei socks and cap, but, “No matching shorts?” I queried.

“I thought they were a little over the top,” he deadpanned.

Hmm. Quite.

The BFG decided we all had the air of survivors from a nuclear war, emerging from the solitude of our bunkers to blink, blearily uncertain into the dim light of the future and wonder what remained of the world we’d once known. I don’t think he was too far off the mark.

By the time we had tamped down the blather and were ready to move, we had assembled a small congregation of 15 riders. G-Dawg had posted up a route he invited everyone to follow, the end point of which was an 11.30 re-gathering at the cafe at Kirkley. He then led the first small, select group of 6 out and away.

We gave them a bit of time and space, then, along with Goose, the Ticker and Fourth Down, we formed a rather unlikely quartet and pushed out to follow. None of us had paid much attention to the proposed route and we deviated almost from the off, being the only group to head out along Broadway, but we all seemed happy to accept our personal deviations from the norm.

We were travelling at a fair clip as we pushed through Ponteland, along Limestone Lane to Stamfordham and then out to the reservoir. From there we climbed up through the plantations to get to the Matfen road, then on to the Quarry and through to Belsay.

At this point we were about 2 hours into the ride and had the choice of stopping at Belsay, or pressing on and meeting everyone at Kirkley. No contest really, even if Goose has severe reservations about the Kirkley scones and their current currant content (or lack thereof.)

Just about everyone else had made it to the cafe in good order, along with those who’d ventured out solo, or in smaller groups from a different start point and it was good to catch up. Even better, Goose found an acceptable alternative to the disappointing scones.

I found a seat next to prognosticator-in-chief the Garrulous Kid, who was predicting the end of all things Chris Froome, in particular any further Grand Tour wins. This was expounded with almost as much conviction and fervour as his frequent proclamations that Germany were a nailed-on certainty to win the last World Cup. (We all know how that turned out, so feel free to put a fiver on Mr. Froome for this years Tour.)

We then learned too much about the wild, debauched drinking parties at university, one of which apparently featured a manly imbibing of … err, Prosecco? It was unclear whether these parties were so extreme, wild and debauched that participants even refused to raise their pinkie finger from the glass while downing their Spumante.

There was just time to catch up on the whereabouts of Taffy Steve via Sneaky Pete (still incapacitated with a severe rotator cuff injury) and the Monkey Butler Boy via the Red Max (apparently developing a severe case of bicycle face while not riding bicycles, per se). Then, with Jimmy Mac’s passionate defence of wearing orange socks still burning my ears, we started to slowly disperse.

Crazy Legs and Sneaky Pete were adding on a slightly longer loop home, up Saltwick Hill and I tagged along, realising as soon as I hit the climb that my legs were well and truly shot.

I dropped back using the ungodly racket of the much cossetted Ribble’s creaking bottom bracket and its assault on my ears as an excuse. Crazy Legs wasn’t kidding when he mentioned his bike was still complaining vigorously, despite all his mechanical ministrations.

Jimmy Mac and G-Dawg blew past us just before we entered the Mad Mile, depositing the Garrulous Kid and a gasping Cowin’ Bovril on our back wheels as they flew by.

Cowin’ Bovril suggested he’d been out for a pleasant, solo ride when they caught him and for some mad reason he determined to hang onto the back of the group for the run home. I think we represented a much more sensible and civilised option for the last few miles.

Minutes later and I was flying solo, picking my way through to the river and home. Luckily there were no wandering Victorian chirurgeon’s around as I began to climb up the Heinous Hill, so I managed to avoid being condemned and confined with what I can only assume by then was my own, very bad case of grimacing bicycle face.