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.

Plague Diaries – Week#14

Plague Diaries – Week#14

The Odyssey

Saturday promised to be a most splendid day for piloting a bike around a suitably sunny and bucolic Northumberland and, with the SLJ household all out and about, I had the entire day free and absolutely no impetus to return at a set time.

Given the good weather and the near certainty that the cafe at Kirkley would be open, Crazy Legs suggested it was a good opportunity for a belated-club rendezvous and catch up, which he pencilled in for 10.30 onward, all riders welcome.

Small groups agreed to form up at the regular place and at the regular time to ride out together, with the intention of arriving at Kirkley for the 10.30 meet, while I changed my intended route to put me within what I hoped would be striking distance of the cafe for about the right time.

I was a bit delayed by dithering, but finally got out the house at about half eight, crossing the river at Newburn and climbing out the other side of the valley toward Throckley.

Here I passed a bloke on the other side of the road out walking the family pets, or perhaps, pet in the singular? It was either three individual, but perfectly matched, large, black pedigree dogs, walking in perfect lockstep, bodies pressed so tightly together they merged into one long, expanse of glossy sable fur and muscle, three identical pink tongues all lolling out the right hand side of three identical jaws – or I’d just passed Cerberus, the three-headed, canine gate-keeper of Hades!

Well, Throckley is quite a strange place, so I didn’t immediately discount this as some sort of mythological encounter.

From there, I unsuccessfully tried to find a route through the labyrinthine streets of Heddon-on-the-Wall and out the other side. Apparently I was attempting the impossible and had to back-track to pick up the road again, to travel around, rather than through the village.

Finally free, I pushed on to Horsley, before dropping back down into the valley at Ovingham, noting it was now the turn of dozens of bright yellow buttercups along the river bank to mark the flow of days on my (strictly amateur) flower almanac.

I was briefly joined in appreciation of this floral display by a small, black-tailed ferret, that wandered out into the road, belatedly noticed me and, as most wildlife seems capable of doing, instantly disappeared without trace. That’s the kind of trick that makes you immediately doubt it was ever there.

I followed the river almost as far as Corbridge, taking the Aydon road to vault me safely up and over the A69 and from there pushed my way on to Matfen.

As I approached the village it was ten past ten and the signs told me I was 10 miles from Ponteland. This was going to be a hell of a time-trial if I wanted to get to Kirkley, a few mile beyond Ponteland, by half past.

I got down into the drops and picked up the pace, swerving around the massive, bloody cadaver of a badger, splayed over the road as if one of Ridley Scott’s aliens had burst out of its chest cavity. I was pleased to be travelling fast enough not to see some of the more gruesome details and be well down the road and past the rotting stink before it really registered.

Like several of the roads around here, the route from Matfen through to Stamfordham has a brand new surface. This would normally be the cause for rejoicing, but the new surface feels rough, grippy and heavy. The combination of the bright sunlight and my sunglasses also seemed to give it a rather disconcerting, blue-metallic sheen, as if coated in a thin layer of oil.

Through Stamfordham, then Dalton and back to more normal roads, I hit the long, straight, relatively smooth and slightly downhill passage of Limestone Lane and picked up the pace, watching my speed creep up … 25.6 mph … 27.4 mph … 29.8 mph … no matter how hard I pushed I couldn’t break the 30 mph barrier …

… And I needn’t have bothered.

At the end of Limestone Lane I ran abruptly into some temporary traffic lights that held me for what seemed like five or six minutes. I could just have pootled along and got there at the exact same time and a lot fresher too.

Finally released by the lights I pushed as hard as I could through Ponteland and out toward Kirkley, but I was tiring rapidly now and it had become hard work.

Still, I made decent time and was soon turning off and threading my way toward richly deserved coffee and cake.

And what a great delight to see so many familiar faces, Crazy Legs and G-Dawg, Jimmy Mac and Plumose Pappus, Aether, Ahlambra and Richard of Flanders were already there and others would trickle in, solo or in small groups – Buster, the Big Yin, our Double Dutch tag-team, Sneaky Pete, Caracol, Red Max, and Mrs. Red Max.

Benedict, the Ticker, Mini Miss, Princess Fiona, Spoons and Front-Wheel Neil made it too, but were late arrivals, having had a few issues after the pedal on Front-Wheel Neil’s new bike unwound and came off still attached to his cleats.

Crazy Legs was in full lament mode with bike issues of his own, complaining something along the lies of “j’aime mon Ribble, mais mon Ribble ne m’aime pas” after discovering an annoying squeak on the much-cossetted Ribble. Stripping it to the bone, he’d carefully cleaned and lubed everything before re-assembling to find the annoying squeak yet persisted.

Halfway through his re-build he’d also found he had to buy a 14mm Allen key to remove the bottom bracket, something we decided was really atypical on bike builds, the type of tool that perhaps only plumbers would have a common use for.

“Nah,” Aether informed us, “Merckx commonly use them.”

“Huh?” G-Dawg, looked confused, if King Ted’s bikes used them, that seemed like a mighty endorsement. “What do they use them for?”

“Mostly on the engine blocks.”

G-Dawg looked even more confused.

“Merckx?”

“Yes.”

“Merckx bikes?”

“No, no, the cars, Mercs. Mercedes-Benz!”

Oh!

Crazy Legs was confounded that any Merc owner would ever deign to get there hands grubby doing DIY on their cars, besides, weren’t they meant to self-heal?

I took time out to compliment Plumose Papuss on his lockdown hairstyle, which rather fittingly made him look like a dandelion clock. G-Dawg, who does his own hair (probably with an angle grinder, in much the same way that Desperate Dan shaves with a blowtorch) offered to render assistance, but was very politley rebuffed. Can’t think why, although he did mention a recent episode when the guard slipped and he carved a huge bald tranche across the top of his scalp by mistake, which he said made him look like Tintin.

Sitting in the sun, we enjoyed the usual blather and general congeniality, before people started drifting away.

Not ready for home yet, I took in a loop north, Shilvington, Whalton and Belsay, before heading back. At a pee-stop at the bottom of Berwick Hill I spotted a tiny bird with gold bars on its wings that I think was a Common Firecrest (although they’re obviously not all that common, as I can’t remember ever seeing one before.)

By the time I was climbing the Heinous Hill, I’d topped 70 miles and was satisfyingly weary. Good weather, a good ride and it was great to catch up with everyone. Perhaps there is a faint glimmer at the end of the tunnel after all.


Plague Diaries – Week#6

Plague Diaries – Week#6

The loneliness of the long distance cyclist

Into week#6 of the lockdown (but who’s counting) and G-Dawg took to social media to celebrate 30 days of quarantine with a link to the Chuck Berry’s classic, “30 Days.”

I immediately added this to my Coronavirus Top 10 playlist, which is coming along quite nicely now:

  1. My Sharona Corona – by The Knack. Crazy Legs’ original, all conquering ear-worm.
  2. Don’t Stand So Close To Me – by The Police, a plaintive paean to maintaining social-distancing.
  3. Isolation – by Joy Division, a breezy little ditty, recorded during one of their more sunny and carefree periods.
  4. Train in Vain – by The Clash, in celebration of all the exercise I’m doing, with no way to show off any (no doubt marginal) gains. I could as easily have picked Clampdown, or Armagideon Time, from the same peerless album/period.
  5. Smells Like Teen Spirit – by Nirvana, for prophetically appropriate lyrics, “I feel stupid and contagious, here we are now, entertain us.” (See also: Thea Gilmore singing on Mainstream about “another kind of war that is raging in our bloodstream.”
  6. Are Friends Electric? – by Tubeway Army, for all the Zwifters amongst us. (I could, of course, have chosen any Taylor Zwift song … (well, if I actually knew any).
  7. You’re A Germ – by Wolf Alice, perhaps a more contemporary song than my original choice, Germ Free Adolescent, by X-Ray Spex.
  8. World Shut Your Mouth – by Julian Cope masterful advice from a former member of the self-proclaimed, Crucial Three. His contemporaries might have contributed “The Disease” – Echo and the Bunnymen, or “Seven Minutes to Midnight” – Wah! Heat (although to be fair, these days it’s probably a lot closer than 7 minutes on the old Doomsday Clock).
  9. Spread The Virus – by Cabaret Voltaire – perhaps what Covid-19 might sound like, if given voice!
  10. 30 Days by Chuck Berry. I’ve got the feeling G-Dawg might soon be cuing up 40 Days, by Slowdive and, I hope I’m wrong, but maybe even looking up some songs by 90 Day Men before this is over.

Any other suggestions?

In the news this week, Mrs. SLJ finished laying waste to our hedges and turned her dauntless topiary skills to the top of my head. If I had to guess, I think the look she was she was aiming for was Action Man circa his flock hair period.

It’s not the best haircut I’ve ever had, but by no means the worst either. Anyway, I think you’ll agree, she did a much better job than Melania…

As a consequence my helmet fits again and feels unimaginably cooler. Just in time, as we head into the weekend with the promise of fine, warm weather.

Even better, I get to wear our new, custom Santini kit for the first time, only a long 10-months after we started the procurement process in June last year!

Again with nothing pre-planned, I found myself crossing the river and climbing out of the valley via Hospital Lane. Having failed to find any sign of a hospital along its length, I concluded it was so called because you’re likely to need emergency care after scrambling up it.

From there I ticked off all the standard tropes of a fairly standard club run, through Ponteland to Limestone Lane, Stamfordham, Matfen and then down the Ryals, all done at a brisk enough pace to have my legs stinging and the breath wheezing in and out of my lungs like a pair of leaky bellows.

The long descent of the Ryal’s left me feeling chilled, so I pulled to a stop beside the war memorial at the bottom and parked myself on the bench there to let the sun warm my bones.

It really was a delightfully peaceful and bucolic scene, the roads empty of traffic and the only sounds were the buzz of fat bees droning through the grass and an almost constant chorus of chirpy, cheerful, chatty birdsong, punctured by the occasional plaintive bleat of newborn lambs.

I managed to stir myself before I got too comfortable, choosing, on the flip of a (mental) coin, to head up through Hallington. I was appalled by the deteriorating road surface here, which was even worse than I recall, but made it through without incident.

It was then our standard route home, through Belsay, Ogle and Kirkley. As I was heading back, everyone else seemed to be heading out into the now positively warm weather and I was passed by a constant stream of other cyclists in singles and in pairs.

I was particularly surprised by how many women cyclists I passed, which is brilliant, but did make me wonder where they usually ride and why we never seem to pass them?

By the time I crested Berwick Hill, I was paying the price for my early exuberance, the legs were heavy and shaky and I was running on empty. The trip home then was, by necessity, a much more sedate affair. By the time I’d dragged myself up the Heinous Hill I’d covered 60-miles, yet perversely thoroughly enjoyed my ride out. It’s fair to say I’m looking forward to a very lazy Sunday, a long lie-in, nothing too strenuous beyond a family walk. And hopefully a chance for a bit of recovery, before it all starts again.

Hang in there, we’re going to get through this.

Rambunctious Rowdy Rabble

Rambunctious Rowdy Rabble

Club Run, Saturday 17th August 2019

Total Distance:118 km/73 miles with 1,191m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 41 minutes
Average Speed: 25.3km/h
Group Size: 29 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature: 21℃
Weather in a word or two: Getting there.

It’s Saturday morning again, so, naturally it’s raining. Again. Heavily. This time however, I’m assured that it is going to stop and the rest of the day should be relatively rain free.

45-minutes later, I’m getting ready to leave and the rain is slowly petering out. Still I take precautions, pulling on a light waterproof jacket and, after a tormented inner dialogue of Hamlet-like intensity, a pair of black socks. These make me feel rather uncomfortable and dirty, but it seems preferable to ruining another pair of white socks with road spray.

Minutes later and I’m more at peace with my choice as my front wheel cuts a bow wave through all the surface water sheeting the Heinous Hill. Socks and shoes are already soaked, but looking none the worse for it.

I’m caught behind the barriers of a level-crossing as two trains trundle past in opposite directions and then passed by two cyclists who I track to the end of the bridge, where they split off left and I head right. They’re both braving the weather sans-rain jacket and I soon stop to follow suit. Things are good, the weather has perked up and I’m almost perfectly dry by the time I pull up at the meeting point.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point

“Are you the cycling group that leaves here at nine?” a breathless feller asked as he pulled up in front of us.

“9:15,” we corrected him. Obviously we were not the droids he was looking for and he scuttled away around the corner to search for who knows what group and who knows where. I’d been there from just before 9 o’clock and I could have re-assured him there been no other groups of cyclists lurking in the area.

The Garrulous Kid came bounding in, flushed with success having secured the grades necessary to get into Aberdeen University. Now he/we only have a couple of rides left before he leaves for an extended Fresher’s week over the border. It seems just moments since he was a gangling, callow, awkward and immature school kid, incapable of taking a left turn smoothly on a bike. Now look at him – a gangling, callow, awkward and immature, soon-to-be student, who is still incapable of taking a left turn smoothly on a bike.

Caracol reported a city-wide street party had spontaneously erupted in Edinburgh when they learned the Garrulous Kid was headed to university in Aberdeen rather than in their fair city. We also speculated on how Biden Fecht might take this news and whether he’d feel honour-bound to resign from his post at the University of Aberdeen

As our maître d’, unofficial meeter-and-greeter and chief pastoral carer, Crazy Legs was once again employed to bring a stray FNG into the fold. This proved to be a guy riding a bike that he claimed was transitioning from city bike, to gravel bike. The revolution had started at the front end with impressively wide-chunky tyres, before petering out with the super-skinny slicks still on the rear. We’re a broad church, with an open and inclusive outlook though, so both rider and transbike were immediately welcomed into our merry throng.

Den Hague had bravely volunteered to plan and lead the ride today and had us set for picking our way along some newish, somewhat pot-holed and distressed looking tracks en route to an assault on the Ryals. Crazy Legs assured the FNG that his bike was probably ideal for the task in hand … well, half of it was anyway.

We then only had time to ponder the unusual, unannounced absence of G-Dawg before we were pushing off, clipping in and riding out.


I dropped onto the back of the first group, where things started to go wrong almost immediately, as we were split by a red light. The light changed to green and Homeboyz and the Big Yin led the chase onto the main road, in pursuit of the front end of the first group.

They barrelled straight over the first round about. Uh-oh, I think we should have turned left at that point. We pressed on and then started to slow and prevaricate as it became apparent we really should have taken that left turn.

We decided to push on regardless, adding in a big dog-leg to our route in order to get back on track. A few miles further up the road, a group of cyclists appeared ahead of us and we were able to tag onto the back. The only thing was, it wasn’t our first group but the second and our numbers had just swelled it to a bloated twenty-plus.

The Big Yin queried if we should over-take and chase down the front group, but I suspected it would cause all kinds of mayhem and so we just sat at the back and enjoyed the ride.

Which we did, until we got to Matfen and a general re-grouping. Homeboyz explained how we ended up at the back of the second group and held his hand up to acknowledge his part in our misadventures.

“I have to admit,” he declared, “It was partly my fault,” he assured Crazy Legs.

“Partly?” I queried.

“Oh, okay, it was fully my fault,” he amended.

Better.

We split at this point, some off to the cafe via the Quarry, while the rest pushed on climbing up through Great Whittingham, flirting briefly with the A68 before taking the rough track through Bingfield toward the Ryals.



Then up the Ryals we went. I struggled to find the right gear and wasn’t pushing too hard, but somehow managed a new, fastest time, which was a little unexpected bonus.

A front group had raced away up the climb and they didn’t look back, but the rest of us regrouped in the village of Ryal, before tackling the Quarry. At the top we turned right and started to accelerate toward the cafe.

A small knot pulled away from the front, but I held fire figuring they would slow on the long drag up to Wallridge crossroads and I could try attacking and bridging across then, all the while Crazy Legs drove us on, intent on pulling our splintered group back into one cohesive unit.

I paused to let an approaching car past, then slipped to the outside and gave a kick. The delay for the passing car proved fortuitous as I caught the front group just as they approached the crossroads. I only had to slow momentarily before one of them called that the road was clear. Still carrying more momentum than the group I’d just caught, I eased past and pushed on with what I suspected was a small gap, but it was still a gap.

From behind Den Hague gave chase and pulled the Garrulous Kid along with him. Down the twisting descent, I made it through the junction, still with a slight advantage. Den Hague finally overhauled me on the climb up to the final junction.

Onto the road down to the Snake Bends, he seemed to pause momentarily and I tried to give chase, slowly clawing back some distance. Then the Garrulous Kid thundered away of my wheel and I eased, letting the pair up front fight it out, before once again our group slowly coalesced and we made our way to the cafe.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

We found a perky looking G-Dawg already ensconced at a table in the garden, having decided to wait out the early downpour before taking to the roads. I think he was suffering from the same malady I was last week – rainmalaise.

Crazy Legs suggested if we ever needed a grumpy old man to replace OGL to bitch and kvetch about the weather and massively exaggerate its impact, we’d found the ideal candidate.

Meanwhile, Buster turned up at our table with a Chocolate Rollo tray bake as dense as osmium.

“That looks super-calorific,” Crazy Legs acknowledged admiringly.

“You might even say it’s super-calorific- expialidocious ,” I ventured, but singularly failed to inflict an unwanted ear-worm on Crazy Legs.

I needn’t have worried, minutes later he as talking about the end of season three of Stranger Things and serenading us all with a heartfelt version of Neverending Story.

Talk turned to other TV-Series and we learned that both Buster and Princess Fiona still have two episodes of Killing Eve left to watch and they warned us against issuing any spoilers.

“I’m only just getting over the shock of her husband leaving,” Buster volunteered.

“What! Her husband leaves her?” Princess Fiona demanded.

Oops, there goes the no spoilers alert, looks like someone actually has more than 2 episodes to catch up on.

From TV, it was a short hop to film, with Crazy Legs off to see the new Tarantino movie and still marvelling at how Christoph Waltz made drinking a glass of milk look so threatening and unsettling in Inglourious Basterds.

We discussed a pivotal point early in the film, when a spy in a German bar revealed himself by ordering three drinks the British way, by holding up his his index, middle, and ring finger. Apparently, that’s not how it’s done on the Continent.

“Show us three, with your fingers,” Crazy Legs asked Double Dutch Distaff, who wasn’t really following the conversation. She immediately held up three digits … a thumb, index finger and middle-finger.

Crazy Legs responded with his British version – index, middle finger and ring finger proudly upraised.

She looked totally perplexed, as if he’d just performed some incredibly difficult and strange sleight of hand, before declaring it was just wrong, unnatural and awkward. I sensed we were just moments away from such a gesture being declared retarded.

G-Dawg wandered over to suggest we took a different route home via Whalton as the road for our regular run through Ogle was muddy and “covered in crap.”

Crazy Legs announced the change, but probably could have saved his breath, G-Dawg swung left instead of right out of the cafe and everyone else just seemed to naturally follow.


The Red Max was riding happily alongside Crazy Legs, when he suddenly reprised “Neverending Story.”

“Nah!” the Red Max declared, “I’m not having it, not that song.” He made a show of pulling off to one side and slipping to the back.

Interesting.

I shuffled up and had a chat with Crazy Legs, again touching on the lack of club jersey’s in a group that was still almost twenty-strong.

“We must look like a bunch of masterless Ronin, roaming the countryside, seemingly without purpose,” I mused.

“I’ve always seen us as more of a rowdy, rabble.” Crazy Legs determined. He liked the connotation of rowdy with rodeo’s, suggesting our Wednesday evening drop-rides akin to bronc riding, you just hug on as long as you could before you were inevitably thrown off the back.

A brief reshuffle and I found myself alongside the Red Max. I couldn’t resist and gave him a quick burst of Neverending Story – and it was a quick burst, as I only know that one line from the chorus. Nevertheless, it was more than enough, even before my ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah’s, were complete, the Red Max was swearing like a trooper and dropping out of line again:

“Na! Na! Na! I’m not having it. Na!”

Who’d have thought it. Like kryptonite to Superman, or garlic to vampire’s, we’d discovered that Limahl’s horrid warbling was the Red Max’s Achilles’ heel.

G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid finished their stint on the front and I took over alongside Homeboyz, keeping the pace respectably high as we swung round the airport. As we entered the Mad Mile and most of the group swung away, G-Dawg appeared on my shoulder and we pressed on to the roundabout, where I could slingshot away and start my solo ride back.


YTD Totals: 5,261 km / 3,269 miles with 69,553 metres of climbing

Jammy Dodger

Jammy Dodger

Club Run, Saturday 20th July, 2019


Total Distance: 115 km/71 miles with 1,097 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 27 minutes
Average Speed: 25.9 km/h
Group Size: 33 riders, no FNG’s
Temperature: 23℃
Weather in a word or two: Sticky and showery

Ride Profile

A quick hit before I disappear for a well-deserved (well, in my opinion) holiday on the Costa Blanca…

Saturday was sticky, hot and humid, even under granite coloured skies that promised to live up to the forecast of frequent heavy showers. The air was strangely still and breathless, mirroring the river which was dull, flat and as still as a millpond as I rolled over the bridge.

Last night I’d resorted to some creative bike wrangling to ensure Reg was ready, fully restored and, most importantly back home. I’d ridden into work on the single-speed as usual, but returned via the Brassworks bike workshop at Pedalling Squares, at the bottom of the Heinous Hill. There, I swapped bikes, picking up and paying for the work on the Holdsworth, before riding it home.

I’d then pulled on a pair of trainers, packed my cycling shoes in a rucksack and ran back down the hill to retrieve the single-speed. This was enough to reinforce my long-held belief that biathlon’s and triathlons are the creation of the devil.

Still, it was worth it, the Holdsworth was running true and smooth and as good as new. There’s something reassuring in finding a bike mechanic who’s a perfectionist. Now the potential for rain was about the only thing likely to ruin a good ride.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The sadomasochistic Buster had volunteered for his maiden role of ride leader, devising a route that was replete with just about all of our signature climbs in one neat package; Bell’s Hill, the Mur de Mitford, the Trench, Rothley Crossroads, Berwick Hill and Middleton Bank. I definitely needed any advantage a good bike could bestow.

The Garrulous Kid was just hoping to get to the cafe as fast as possible, so he could retrieve his sun specs, which he’d managed to leave behind the week before. G-Dawg told me they made the Garrulous Kid look like a bad Roy Orbison impersonator and he had visions of some old feller finding them, slapping them on his head and then walking blindly into all the tables and chairs as he tried to locate the exit.

I reassured the Garrulous Kid that I was certain they’d still be there as, from G-Dawg’s description, it didn’t sound like anyone else would actually want them. He then wondered if his water bottle would still be there too, as that was something else he’d forgotten.

I’m trying to see if we can develop an unofficial club jersey that more than two or three people are happy to wear, so had a chat with a few people about this, including Princess Fiona … which was when I realised I hadn’t considered a female option as (apparently) they’re built a bit different. I think this is going to be one of those projects that sounds easy, but the deeper you dig, the more issues you unearth.

A bunch of our riders had submitted themselves to a British Cycling ride leader course last Sunday, to allow them to officially take groups of youngsters out onto the open roads and introduce them to the mystical, mythical, ever-enduring club ride.

The course was an astonishing 8 hours long and preceded by a 3 hour computer test on general road safety and regulations – a hell of a commitment, that still didn’t get us to where we want to be. Apparently, ride leaders also require an up to date, First Aid certificate too – an additional course and between £15-£25 per person and then it’s only valid for 3-years.

Once we have all this in place, we would still only be allowed 8 junior riders for every fully qualified and certified ride leader and to cap it all, British Cycling charged the club £1,000 to run the course, plus the cost of the venue hire.

From talking to the group, many of the principles, guidelines and requirements they learned sounded rather Byzantine and restrictive and, well, a bit of a ball ache to be fair. I’m in no position to judge if the course teaches the best and safest way to lead a group of youngsters onto our undoubtedly dangerous roads, but the cost and time commitments alone seem to actively discourage clubs from doing this. I’m not sure how well this chimes with the mission statement of British Cycling to grow cyclesport?

With such a large group, we split into two and I dropped into the second group. Talk of enacting course leader principles were quickly shelved and we pressed on in our usual ramshackle manner.


I found myself riding alongside Sneaky Pete as we got underway chatting about Canadian singer-songwriters, the TV adaption of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and the right balance between practical colours for a cycling jersey and rider visibility.

I climbed the Mur de Mitford at a fairly relaxed pace and found myself alongside Taffy Steve as we pressed on.

“Ah, the Pigdon Prowler, ” I announced, referring to the Strava segment we now found ourselves traversing. “I wonder where that name came from?”

Taffy Steve agreed it was bizarre, but admitted to being far more interested in the etymology behind a different Strava segment: “Jonny’s Polish Shagfest” – having spend months trying to identify if we had any Jonny’s in the club he could interrogate to try and understand the origin of the Central European Shagfest and what relation it had to cycling.



Next on our list of came the Trench which again we seemed to run at a reasonable pace, before pausing to regroup. Just as we were determining shorter and longer options, our first group clambered up to join us, having been delayed when Caracol inexplicably tried to mate his rampant bike with Rainman’s. The only issue from this most unholy of unions had been a smashed derailleur, which had forced Rainman to abandon and call for the voiture balai to get him safely home.

Crazy Legs urged the front group to keep going at their usual, brisk pace, while the rest of us would trail along behind in our own time. Several defectors though took the opportunity to drop back into the second group, notably Goose and the Big Yin. Good for them, bad for everyone else as it prompted me to unleash my finest nasal, Dylanesque wail; “What’s the point of changing … horses in midstream.”

Having somehow survived my intemperate wailing, we pressed on toward Rothley crossroads, taking the much maligned and hated traditional route, rather than the equally, or even more maligned and hated novel approach that Taffy Steve had recently inflicted on us.

As the gradient bit and the speed dropped, I pushed onto the front alongside Goose to help pace us up and over the cross-roads. We repeated the exercise on Middleton Bank and then started building up the speed for our long run toward the cafe.

Into the final few mile and I attacked on the rollers, just to surprise everyone, figuring they certainly wouldn’t be expecting the move. I then dragged a quite remarkably unstartled, unmoved and unflustered group, who were firmly lodged on my back wheel, up and around the final corner, before swinging aside for the sprinters to burn past.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Although earlier arrivals had all chose to sit inside the cafe, it was so hot and sticky we decide to sit outside in the garden. Zardoz had heard rumblings about a new, alternative jersey.

“Oh, can I have one with my name on it?” he wondered.

We can all have your name on it,” I assured him.

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t know who I was then,” he deadpanned.

I heard from G-Dawg and Crazy Legs that The Silence had been one of those attending the Ride leaders programme, where, by all accounts he’d remained characteristically tight-lipped and taciturn throughout. I’m not wholly convinced keeping mum is great attribute for a ride leader.

We also learned that he has a near fatal attraction for edging toward the kerb, particularly alarming for anyone caught on his inside. He’d make a deadly sprinter in a bunch finish.


Our brief sojourn in the garden was otherwise uneventful and we left in two or three disparate groups to make our way home. By great good fortune we saw no actual rain, but would periodically encounter soaking wet roads, suggesting we’d only just missed being caught in a fearsome shower or two.

This good fortune held all the way home, completing an unexpectedly dry club run and it wasn’t until I parked up the bike and stepped into the house that the heavens opened up and the rain came stottin’ down.

For once, good timing.


YTD Totals: 4,825 km / 2,998 miles with 64,345 metres of climbing