There’s the Rub

There’s the Rub

Into a new year we stumble and it’s back to the Saturday routine following two consecutive Monday rides during the holidays. The first of these would put a cap on my 2021 efforts in truly dire fashion as I appeared to bonk halfway around a 100km route, dropped off the back of the group and crawled the rest of the way home solo and most appropriately sur la jante.

This meant I also missed our annual pilgrimage to the cabin in the woods – the café at Bolam lake, which is perfectly servicable, reliably open when everything else is shuttered for the holidays, but for some reason, we seldom use if other choices are available.

The first Monday into the new year was much more successful, as we battled a strong headwind along the banks of the Tyne to the café at Bywell. Then, when everyone else had to turn north to climb out of the valley, I went rogue, crossed the bridge at Wylam and had a brilliantly fast, tailwind assisted and hugely enjoyable blast down the south bank of the river and home.

Although a somewhat shortened jaunt, at least it mean’t I had a few miles already banked for my first official club run of 2022.

Except …

Well, except the clubs affiliation to British Cycling has been actively suspended, so we can no longer have official club runs.

We first became aware of this when an eagle-eyed clubmate noticed our listing had abruptly disappeared from the BC website, but we had to wait three or four days before we got any sort of confirmation from the club hierarchy. (Is heirarchy an applicable term when all structures and governance are embodied in the whims of a single, solitary person?)

The official confirmation that the club’s affiliation to British Cycling had indeed been suspended came in the form of a terse, poorly worded and contradictory club communique which raised more questions than it answered, while suggesting the suspension was:

a). An utter shock that was unheralded and completely out of the blue with absolutely no hint of forewarning

b.) Totally and utterly unwarranted, and …

c.) Most importantly of all, somebody else’s fault entirely …

Call me cynical, but I’m not convinced by any of these points and this one is likely to run and run. Oh well, looks like we’re fully earning our subscriptions to the Chinese Curse (may you live in interesting times) to keep us entertained, although sometimes a bit of peace, calm and stability might be nice.

With no club run (ahem) to be planned, G-Dawg posted up a route just to let all his friends know where and when he intended to ride on Saturday and suggest that, if we should just happen to be on the exact same roads at the exact same time, well, that was pure coincidence wasn’t it…

There is, of course, nothing illegal about us riding as a group, it’s simply that this is no longer an official BC club run and as such we have no benefit from the blanket public liability insurance cover for club organised activities. (Or, at least that’s my very poor understanding of how things work, anyway.)

It wasn’t the best day for it either, cold, darkly overcast and with the threat of rain as an almost constant companion. I set off in darkness and swear 5-miles into my ride, it actually started to get darker. Then the rain bounced down, just enough to ensure I was suitably damp around the edges and ever so slightly uncomfortable.

I had to stop a few times to sort out my disapproving mudguards too, as their constant, censorious, tsk-tsk of my riding on every climb started to wear thin. I’ve no idea why mudguards that fitted perfectly last week should suddenly become an irritant. I guess that’s just the way it is.

I arrived at the meeting point to seek shelter in the dark recesses of the multi-storey car park, where we slowly assembled as a six-strong cohort. The weather didn’t seem that bad, so it was a fairly disappointing turnout, although perhaps people had been put off by Rainman’s prediction that violent thunderstorms would be sweeping the region just as we were due to set out. I’m still at a loss to work out where he picked up this idea from and, despite his blerg-moniker, he proved fantastically unreliable when it came to predicting levels of precipitation.

G-Dawg and Crazy Leg were on their fixies, Tri-Guy and me on single-speed bikes and Brassneck and Between were on normal road bikes. This was then perhaps the largest proportion of single-geared velocipedes on a club run in at least a quarter of a century and we estimated that between us we probably only had an average of just 8 gears each to choose from. Oh, wait, it wasn’t a club run at all. Scrub that.

Tri-Guy (it turns out he isn’t a triathlete at all, but a gravel biker) had managed to find some ice on a cycle path on the way across and had slid out. He reported there was no damage done, but he’d managed to plant his mitt in an icy puddle on his way down and his glove was now completely soaked through. It sounded innocuous at the time, but would result in having one seriously cold hand throughout the ride, like Michael Jackson asked to scrape a car windscreen, and he would eventually skip the café stop to head straight home to defrost (once he finally worked out exactly where the hell we had taken him and how to get back).

Crazy Legs declared he was grappling with last night’s curry and was in danger of losing and “doing a Dumoulin”, so set out for a solo ride which included a brief detour home, agreeing to meet up with us again at Kirkley café. The remaining 5 of us set out and just so happened to choose the exact same roads at the exact same time. What a coincidence.

At the top of Berwick Hill and with no sign of ice, we decided to risk at least part of the original route and take the lane through Kirkley Mill and out. Brassneck politely ushered me to the front for the descent as a sort of early warning device, relying on my penchant for finding errant patches of ice and reasoning if he saw me fall over he’d have plenty of time to stop or take evasive action. Charming.

We did find the odd rime of ice lurking in the gutters at the side of the road, which was not enough to cause any problems, but sufficient for us to skip the section planned for the shady lanes around Shilvington.

As we had passed through Kirkley on our outbound leg I’d glanced across at the rather gloomy, still dark horizon and asked G-Dawg if he knew what time sunrise was meant to be today.

It was meant as a rhetorical question, but, as we headed back an hour or so later the sun briefly broke cover to reveal itself skimming along, low on the horizon.

“Aha! There’s your sunrise,” G-Dawg exclaimed.

It seemed like it too, at 11.30 only three and a half hours later than scheduled. Still, I had to do a hard double-take just to convince myself that I wasn’t actually seeing a premature sunset, as our nearest star just didn’t seem to have the energy to clamber any higher into the sky and it was still pretty gloomy.

We eventually made it to the café at Kirkley, where we lost Tri-Guy to his frozen digits, but picked up a now substantially lighter Crazy Legs who’d enjoyed on his own solo ride. He went for the popular Mint Aero traybake as a reward and was gifted with a hugely massive, thick slab of doubly-delicious empty calories that buckled his paper plate as he tried to pick it up.

“That looks more like a block of pavé rather than something you’d want to ingest,” I suggested and Crazy Legs hauled it up triumphantly for all to see, posing as proud and content as Tom Boonen celebrating his fourth Paris-Roubaix win by kissing yet another hunk of stett.

We stepped over a large pooch sprawled bonelessly across the floor and to claim a table in the corner where, for some reason the talk turned to odd names. Crazy Legs was pleased I could confirm that he’d once worked with a guy called Robert Sherunkel (Mrs. SLJ used to be employed in the same organisation) while Brassneck contributed a colleague called Helmut Klingor. Luckily Taffy Steve wasn’t there, or we’d have had to include NASCAR driver, Dick Trickle in the conversation too.

We also had some thoughts about the prospects of meaningful change in the club and whether British Cycling’s sanctions would have any effect. I think we were all just as realistic as we were hopeful. Time will tell.

And then, it was time to leave, but … hold on … what was this? Crazy Legs couldn’t finish off his block of pavé? He’s obviously not a proper cyclist. He quietly folded the plate around blocky remains, ostensibly to keep it away from the dog stretched out snoring and completely uninterested beside us, but really just to conceal his inadequacy as a cyclist.

We then had a conversation about the bizarre things our canine friends will eat (G-Dawgs apparently have a very weird penchant for fox scat) while I wondered when chocolate had suddenly become such deadly poison to dogs. I remember my aunt and uncle had a dog that was seriously addicted to KitKats, but always seemed in remarkably rude health, so I remain confused.

We left the café with no clear answers about anything, other than the fact that, someplace, somewhere, Bob Sherunkle’s parents were probably still chuckling quietly to themselves.

I indicated I was heading home via Ponteland and the rest decided to join me for a change of route, so I had company as far as my turn at Twin Farms before I struck out for home alone. Not a bad not-a-club-run after all.

[Update: With the entirety of the rest of the household succumbing to the COVID-19 virus across the past fortnight, the inevitable has finally happened and I’ve just tested positive and embarked on my own period of splendid isolation. This obviously rules out club runs (of both the official and non-official variety) in the near future and pretty much writes off the whole of January for me. Oh well. Later.]


Day & Date:Non-club ride, Saturday 8th January 2022
Riding Time:94km/58 miles with 883m of climbing
Riding Distance:3 hours 59 minutes
Average Speed:23.6km/h
Group Size:6 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:3℃
Weather in a word or two:Darkling day-oh
Year to Date:172km/107 miles with 1,774m of climbing

My COVID-themed Jenga Game takes shape.

Ice Capades and Afghan Whigs with David Attenbrrrr

I hadn’t even left the house first thing Saturday and our WhatsApp group was buzzing with people crying off as freezing fog was blanketing the North East and upping the potential for icy roads. Others decided to delay an hour or two before venturing out, hoping to see things improve.

Me? I was up. I was ready. I didn’t feel like waiting. I took a peek out and decided it just didn’t look that bad and decided to give it a go and see how far I got, reasoning I could always turn back for home again. Anyway, it was our Christmas jumper ride and others were now invested in my ride. Thing#2 had a hand designing my wardrobe. She’d first selected one of her navy sweatshirts with a natty(?) tartan collar and an ugly kitten escaping from a gift-wrapped, be-ribboned Christmas present on the front. Now don’t get me wrong, this was truly naff, but it was also a little too sober and understated.

So, she dug deep into the dark, dark recesses of her wardrobe and returned with a horror of a Christmas jumper (she assures me she likes it) which was suitably gaudy and the epitome of bad taste – a festive green with white reindeer and snowflakes, red poinsettia and a massive rendering of David Attenborough’s face emblazoned on the front (alongside a green(?) and red robin.)

Luckily it said ATTENBRRRR under this picture, otherwise, you would have absolutely no idea who the jumper was trying to depict. It reminded me of those epic-fail likeness’s too often seen tattooed across some poor blokes back, where an utterly talentless artist has taken a photograph of his beloved family members, sometimes wives, but most often young kids, and rendered them in tattoo form as some deformed and mutated alien monster from my darkest nightmares.

For her part, Thing#1 had bedecked my bike in twinkling, much too subtle fairy lights and wrapped the top tube and seattube in luxuriously thick golden tinsel.

Ok. Let’s give it a go.

My first impression, as I dropped down the hill, was that it was indeed bitterly cold and Christmas jumpers are not even remotely windproof and I stayed uncomfortably cold until I was made to climb out the other side of the valley.

Before that, I crossed a still, silent river unaware if any rowers had braved the freezing temperatures, as everything under the bridge was invisible and swathed under a thick blanket of fog. I couldn’t even tell how high, or low the water was.

I reached the other bank and turned east, passing a small knot of Muckle riders churning in the opposite direction, obviously intent on a serious ride with no indulging the frivolity and stupidity of any of that Christmas jumper nonsense. I can’t help thinking they’ve got the right idea.

By the time I made the meeting point, I could see a band of ice crystals had started to form around the cuffs of my jumper and the final downhill stretch had chilled me once again. It was cold. Not as cold however as the -6℃ that OGL claimed it to be when he drove to the meeting point just to warn us that it was cold. Unless of course, he’d just driven in from Outer Siberia rather than Outer Fenham.

Despite being out on four wheels instead of two, he was fully dressed in full cycling kit, en route to the café at Belsay where a gathering of veterans was meeting to celebrate the achievements of local racing legend Ray Wetherell. G-Dawg would be our lone envoy at the event and our route was largely determined to get him there in time for the presentation.

G-Dawg and Aether were already at the meeting point, the former clearly surprised that even two others had turned up as he was expecting to ride on his own. As it was, we were then joined by the Cow Ranger, Teri TK and a Tri-Guy I wasn’t at all familiar with – to form a handy sextet.

We’d all made at least a token effort on the Christmas jumper front and Aether had seemingly swathed every square centimeter of his bike frame in thick, long-stranded, golden tinsel, even down to the long rear mudguard.

“Well, if nothing else,” I told him, “At least you’ll be invisible to radar.”

In the absence of a Christmas Jumper, Teri TK had gone with a navy blue Hawaiin shirt emblazoned with bright red Santa’s, only G-Dawg thought it might have been a pyjama top and asked jealousy if he’d managed to perfect the art of rolling straight out of bed and onto his bike.

Crazy Legs wandered up in civvies with his dog in tow, or perhaps it was the other way round, as Crazy Legs had tried tip-toeing carefully across icy pavements, only to be hauled enthusiastically forward by fearless Reggie, on much surer, four-footed traction. Anyway, the pair had arrived safely to spread seasonal greetings and good cheer, as Crazy Legs was one of those who’d delayed their ride to see if conditions improved, so he wasn’t sure of seeing us out on the road.

We had a bit chuckle about some recent transactions on our WhatsApp group, where someone had sold an office chair within seconds of posting it up, while MiniMiss had offered up two free tickets to see Gary Barlow live at the Arena … and had no takers. After a couple of hours of complete radio silence on the tickets, I’d concluded that a second-hand office chair had more pulling power than a former member of Take That and sparked an inevitable pile-on. This not only provided great entertainment but had left the original poster and office chair somewhat bemused and bewildered by the sudden, unexpected popularity of his second-hand furniture.

As we chatted, whenever Crazy Legs hands got cold he would pick up poor Reggie and bury his frozen digits in the dog’s fur, to leech away some warmth. It really was that cold, too cold to hang around for long and as soon as the clock hit 9:15 we determined there were no more lunatics likely to join us and we had to move before we froze in place.

G-Dawg and Aether led us out and alongside Teri TK, I slotted in behind them. There was something surreal about my view of Aether’s tinsel-enveloped bike from the back – it looked like he was riding an Afghan hound, with the slight sway of the rear mudguard resembling a tail, swishing from side to side.

Despite the bitter cold, the roads appeared ice-free fog and once the fog burned off, it was a beautiful crystal clear day, although the silvery-bright sun held no warmth whatsoever. The hedgerows out in the countryside were all ice-shrouded, still, white and glistening. Although bitterly cold, Aether reported his Garmin was reading -2.4℃ at one point, it was an extremely pleasant and convivial ride.

Through Stamfordham and the Cow Ranger and Tri Guy took to the front and they led through to Matfen, where they kept going, but the remaining four of us decided to adopt a Flat White ride protocol and stop for coffee.

The Matfen café was very welcoming, the coffee was good and G-Dawg was indulged with an early Christmas treat, the largest slice of corned beef pie I’ve ever seen.

Strange connections led from queries about if Frankenstein’s monster ever had a name, to Harry Potter’s owl, to Aether’s fascinating revelation that Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr had invented a frequency-hopping torpedo guidance system for the Allies during the war.

We had a chat with a local on leaving the café, then we were underway again, deciding to risk the Quarry en route to Belsay. Climbing out of Matfen we rode through the slightly unsettling phenomena of the rime encrusted trees occasionally shedding a tinkling cascade of ice pellets in our path, presumably a sign that the temperature had ticked up a degree or so.

The Quarry was the highest point of our ride and the crystal clear, still air provided spectacular views down into the Tyne Valley, where a thick bank of white fog still clung to the river. Even with the additional elevation and exposure, the top of the Quarry was still ice-free and we were soon cresting the slope and dropping down toward Belsay. G-Dawg offered Aether the chance to win the café sprint again, but he declined, wanting to win by stealth and subtlety rather than default. We rolled through Belsay, G-Dawg peeled off for the café and the three of us remaining set course for Kirkley, with potential rendezvous with any of the later starters, or G-Dawg, depending on how long he spent at Belsay.

As we approached Ogle I was eyeing the road suspiciously, unable to tell if its evil gleam was just because it was wet and the sun was bouncing directly off it, or there was a layer of ice lurking for the unwary. I voiced my concerns, asking Aether if he thought it was icy. He wasn’t sure either, but we weren’t kept in suspense for long.

We pushed through the cluster of houses, swung right and had just started to scale the rise out of the hamlet, when my wheels slid away from under me and I came down with a clatter. Behind me, either finding his own patch of deadly black ice, or startled because of my sudden nose-dive, Terri TK suddenly banged down too. I lay there for a moment, unable to unclip as my leg was cramping up, then slowly disengaged and untangled myself from the bike.

The fall had tried to even out all sticky-out bits down my right-hand side, so the point of my shoulder, elbow, top of my thigh and knee had all been subjected to a little gentle grating across the road surface. My brake lever was similarly scratched up and there was a hole in my favourite bibtights, but luckily all the damage was superficial.

Terri TK too reported no major injury, so we picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves down then walked our way very gingerly to the top of the slope. Before remounting, Aether phoned G-Dawg to warn him to be careful on this stretch, while I posted a similar warning on our WhatsApp ride group.

We later learned that the Big Yin and the Cow Ranger had both come down in the same spot, but luckily they too experienced no major damage. The Cow Ranger also said that on leaving us he and Tri-Guy had been tempted to go down the Ryalls until they met a bloke pushing his bike back up after hitting ice on the descent and sliding 30 metres down on his arse.

At Kirkley, Terri TK pushed on for home, while Aether and I called into the café for one last cup of coffee for the road and one last cup of coffee before I’d go to the valley below… No one else had shown by the time we left and we split shortly after leaving, Aether to try the potentially problematic lane up to Berwick Hill, while I followed shorter, more certain roads home through Ponteland.

The river valley and most of the hills south of the river were still shrouded in freezing fog and I was a little concerned the Heinous Hill might be a bit slippery, especially as I would have to climb most of it out of the saddle. Luckily my fears were unfounded and I made it back without the indignity of falling over again.

After a couple of nights sticking to the sheets and only being able to lie on one side, I’m mostly recovered now and looking forward to our last club ride of the year, the Monday after Christmas Day, weather permitting.


Day & Date:Saturday 18th December 2021
Riding Time:96km/60 miles with 912m of climbing
Riding Distance:4 hours 35 minutes
Average Speed:21.1km/h
Group Size:6 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:-2℃ to 3℃
Weather in a word or two:The brass monkeys sang soprano
Year to Date:4,813km/2,990 miles with 51,376m 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

Proxy Dick

Proxy Dick

The club run this week was planned by Richard of Flanders and included some serious hills. By the end I’d managed to clock up over 100 kilometres, with more than 1,200 metres of climbing thrown in for good measure – an acid test of just how suitable a single-speed bike is as the weapon of choice for an auld git on a club run.

The day was dismally overcast, grey and dark throughout, with strong enough gusts for the wind to be a noticeable impediment and a brief interlude of rain thrown in for good measure. This arrived an hour or two earlier than forecast, much to the disappointment of those who hoped they would be home and hosed beforehand. Personally, I was resigned to getting wet, sometime, somewhere out on the roads and was a bit more sanguine about accepting the inevitable.

At the meeting point, I found Crazy Legs extolling the virtues of BBC’s new Brian Cox series, ‘Forces of Nature.’ That’s Brian Edward Cox CBE, the astrophysicist and one-time keyboard player with D:Ream (or N:Ightmare as my mate always referred to them), not Brian Denis Cox CBE, the Scottish actor, best remembered (in my household anyway) for his portrayal of Hannibal Lecktor (sic) in the film Manhunter. Anyway, the series had left Crazy Legs feeling rather wistful and apparently he was not looking forward to the sun dying and the collapse of the universe in just a few trillion years time. Somewhat more bizarrely, someone suggested that Mr. Cox should probably have stuck to his burgeoning pop career. Astounded, I looked at Crazy Legs, Crazy Legs looked at me and we both gave a synchronised shake of the head, before declaring, in flat unison, an emphatic and final, “Eh … no!”

This week, Brassneck and Captain Black were shorts wearers, but Alhambra had gone for full-length tights. We then had a long discussion about the difference in temperature between last week and this week (none) and why shorts were suitable then, but not now. Alhambra put up a sturdy defence of his choices before talk turned to the FNG and his unfortunate rendezvous with the ground.

“Was I out last week?” a bewildered Alhambra then enquired, despite having spent 5 minutes discussing his riding attire moments before.

“Bloody hell,” I complained, “It’s like talking to my mother.”

Jimmy Mac then received a round of applause from Crazy Legs for arriving astride a shiny purple-red Specialized Allez complete with carefully colour-coordinated gloves. This is his Ultegra-equipped winter bike, recently given a new, lustrous special, custom paint-job, which in itself he confessed had set him back a special, custom price of over £450. Looking this good obviously comes with a hefty price tag, in this instance the paint job alone cost more than twice as much as the value of my entire bike.

Speaking of which, you haven’t officially met, so let me introduce you to my single-speed Frankenbike, with its mismatched wheels, cranks, odd-combination of cassette conversion kit and rear derailleur as a chain tensioner and 34 x14 gearing (the Hill!) The is based around an old, aluminium Trek Alpha 100 series frame, secured off eBay in (maybe?) 2009-2010 for a princely sum of £30, which in today’s money is … well, about £30.

Originally liveried in white and blue colours, perhaps to suggest an association with the pro team of a certain Texan gentleman of rather stained reputation, I quite liked the look, but unfortunately, the paintwork was in poor condition and had somehow been completely scraped off one of the chainstays. The first task then was to strip the frame and have it bead-blasted and powder coated in an off-street, (very) industrial manufactory in the badlands out toward the coast. Given a panoply of colours to choose from, I decided on plain, bright white – shockingly inappropriate for a winter bike, but hey, foresight was never my strong point.

The frame was then transported to the venerable Toshi San who built it into a fully working velocipede, using a mix of the few original components that had survived, stock from his extensive stores of parts both old and new, and a few bits and bobs I had to buy in: wheels, STI levers and the like.

This was the bike that eased my transition from sofa-surfer back to road cyclist (via a brief flirtation with mountain-biking) and I completed my first Cyclone Challenge astride – a rather daunting 100km’s for a rather shockingly chubby-faced returnee to the sport.

When n+1 fever inevitably took hold and I bought a new Focus Cayo, the Trek was relegated to winter steed and then eventually usurped from this role with the arrival of the more sturdy Peugeot.

From there it sat and mouldered for a few years until the mountain bike I was using and abusing to commute on finally crapped out. Not wanting to spend good money on a mountain bike that gave me no great pleasure, I opted to have the Trek converted to a single-speed as a cheap commuter option, working on the assumption (correct until now – touchwood) that nobody in their right mind would be interested in stealing such a battered and fugly looking thing when it was chained up outside the office.

So the Trek went back to Toshi San for the refit and the ingenious repurposing of a rear derailleur as chain tensioner, after the more usual off-the-shelf kind proved too weedy to keep the chain on the sprocket. That was four or five years ago and I’ve been using it regularly ever since, although not until very recently on a club run.

Anyway, enough ancient history. We received news that Richard of Flanders was required at home to nurse a sick child, so Crazy Legs stepped up to the mark to brief in the route and act as substitute ride leader: “a proxy Richard,” as he declared, which sounds a bit like some kind of Shakespearean insult: “Though art nought but a throstle-minded proxy-richard!”

Crazy Legs managed to get a faster first group organised and led out by Caracol, but it was imbalanced, with only half a dozen or so riders. Brassneck claimed/feined a wounded knee, Goose had switched to his pig-iron touring-panzerkampfwagen, the Iron Horse for the winter and I wasn’t even remotely tempted to try keeping up on a single-speed. To cap it all, Captain Black had gone out with this group the week before and was still scarred and bitter from the experience, so he too gave it a hard pass.

That left about 20 of us to form 2 groups. Simple maths, you would have thought, but we can always find ways to make things more complex. A much too-large second group started to form with over a dozen riders. I was going to hang back with the third group to try and balance things out a little, but then Crazy Legs declared the inaugural Winter ’21 ride of The Most Fraternal Brotherhood of the Order of the Flat White Club (fraternitas plana album imbibit), with at least two stops planned to offer up libation to the immortal pantheon of the Caffea Rubiaceae. As an uncommitted, part-time-only believer, I was excommunicated forthwith and cast out into the second group. I joined the back of this slightly too-large 14-strong cadre and off we went.

We made it to Stamfordham, passing a lone-riding OGL along the way, toiling as he ploughed a lonely furrow, declaring club runs were now too fast and went much too far these days. (Personally, I’m not aware of any such changes – in 2015 I was regularly riding 110 to 120 kilometres each Saturday that’s what we did this week.)

At Stamfordham we stopped briefly and I noticed Zardoz was prominent in the group, having forgotten his helmet and supplemented his usual Augustus Windsock, walrus moustache with a full, fluffy white beard. He looked like our very own, lean and mean version of Santa Claus.

“Please, can I have an Action Man for Christmas?” I asked politely. Well, it was worth a try. I honestly didn’t realise that Santa knew how to swear quite so fluently.

I took to the front with Brassneck as we exited the village and we both reflected that our timing was especially poor today as we were still there, toiling into the wind on the upward grind all the way to the crest of the Ryals. It was a largely freewheeling descent for me, but I was still up toward the front as we approached the turn we’d take up to Hallington. This is the spot where we usually regroup before starting the climb, but with no gears to help, I wanted a clean run at the slopes, so I just kept going and left the others to catch up. We made it through to the other side and then took in the last bit of serious climbing, Strava’s aptly titled Humiliation Hill, before I finally felt we could afford to stop and reform.

Our run across the top of the fell to Capheaton was interrupted by the 4×4 (surprise!) of a hunt follower, stopped in the middle of the narrow lane (obviously) so they could idly chat with the other hunt followers who had parked a long line of similarly outsized vehicles along the verge. The driver didn’t in any way acknowledge our presence and made no attempt to move, so we were forced to slow, single out and thread ourselves carefully through the ridiculously narrow crevice between the cars. Perhaps if we’d managed to fall and scratch the paintwork of their beloved automobile during our passage we would have received something other than the look of icy disdain that greeted our approach. Maybe we should try that next time?

This obstacle safely negotiated, we were soon at the cafe at Capheaton, with its warm welcome, most splendid cakes and free refills! (Apparently, the utterly terrifying sight of G-Dawg’s ‘pet lip’ last week has forced the cafe at Belsay to reconsider and reinstate free coffee refills!) Good work that man, who’d have thought petulant pouting could be quite so effective.

The Capheaton cake selection was so good that Brassneck was tempted by a second slice to go with his refill and James III even offered to go halfsies with him, if he felt a full serving was too excessive. Somehow he managed to resist, even as I followed him to the counter chanting a “cake, cake, cake” mantra.

We caught up with the Prof in the cafe, discussing our ex-clubmate beZ’s run out with the Ribble Weldtite team during the Nationals. The Prof then started asking unanswerable questions about maximum watts and FTP’s and that was it for me. I’d no idea and no great desire to learn either.

Leaving the cafe, Brassneck umh-ed and aah-ed about putting his jacket on as the cloud lowered and hinted at the rain to come. He eventually decided not to bother, which was as big a mistake as his timing when we took us onto the front. Naturally, a few miles down the road we were all stopping to pull on rain jackets as the downpour arrived and everything became damp and squishy.

By the time I was off on my own, the rain had stopped and the sky had finally brightened a little, so the last part of the ride was moderately pleasant. Although the legs felt heavy as early as the drag up past Westerhop Golf Club, I had a decent enough run back and a passable clamber up the hill and home.


Day & Date:Saturday 6th November 2021
Riding Time:114km/71 miles with 1,257m of climbing
Riding Distance:4 hours 43 minutes
Average Speed:24.1km/h
Group Size:24 riders
Temperature:12℃
Weather in a word or two:You know, it could have been a lot worse
Year to Date:4,276km/2,656 miles with 45,526m of climbing


Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com

Danish Poirot

Danish Poirot

Well, we’ve successfully completed our grand tour of many fine northern cities and their splendid universities and while I’m not sure Thing#2 has reached any sort of decision, we’ve perhaps-maybe managed to eliminate one or two potential destinations from overall contention.

At least visits to numerous points south gave me an opportunity to catch up with the venerable Toshi-san in the Peoples Republic of South Yorkshire. He’s spending a lot of his retirement happily shuttling back and forth from Sheffield to the bleak wilderness of Spurn Point which, according to the local Wildlife Trust is Yorkshire’s very own Lands End! Here he serves as a volunteer crewman on the Humber lifeboat and has also taken it upon himself the Herculean (and rather thankless) task of restoring the RNLI’s fleet of much-neglected velocipedes back to prime working order.

Back home summer has gone and my shiny plastic bikes have been carefully placed into hibernation, but still, the club runs continue. This week Crazy Legs planned the route and decided to change things up by plotting a circuitous route to a café, where we’d stop before diving down into the Tyne Valley and climbing out again. This goes completely against the grain of standard practice – where we would usually drop down to the river and clamber out before finding a café to refuel and try to recover in.

Crazy Legs’ crazy plan opened up the opportunity for me to miss the climb back out of the valley and instead cross the river at Wylam and follow it downstream all the way home. This would essentially shorten my ride and, more importantly, halve the amount of climbing I’d need to do. This in turn opened up the possibility that I could attempt my first club ride on my tatty, Trek Frankenbike.

This is the bike Toshi-san converted to single-speed by cleverly employing an old rear derailleur as a chain tensioner. It’s so beat up, battered, odd and worthless-looking that I like to commute on it and I’m happy to leave it chained up outside the office, knowing that no one in their right mind would bother to nick it. Still, while it looks fugly, I have to admit it’s actually a smooth, pleasurable thing to ride, especially compared to my alternative winter-bike, the clattering-clunking Peugeot.

My reasoning was that if I could survive an entire club run over a shorter, less hilly route without gears and still make it up the Heinous Hill and home without recklessly endangering my knees and sanity, then I could probably handle a standard club run on the Trek. Or, worst-case scenario, I’d at least discover my limits.

So the die was cast and single-speed was prepped for action. Saturday brought a little drizzly rain that threatened to turn heavier later, so it was rain jackets and overshoes all round. There was the usual smattering of winter and summer bikes at the meeting point and, as a consequence a mix of those protected by mudguards and those without. This is perfect for engendering a few fun squabbles as people fight to ride behind a protected rider, rather than subject themselves to the constant dousing of cold water thrown off an unprotected rear wheel.

Crazy Legs had at least a full-length rear mudguard intact, but admitted to wrenching the front one, or, more accurately, “the-mother-trucking-blasted-buzzard-sheet-stinking-piece-of-useless-poor-plastic front one,” off his bike just before setting out, after no end of tinkering could relieve it of the annoying tsk-tsk-tsk where it caught on his tyre.

Ahlambra and Captain Black both decided it was still warm enough to wear shorts. Madness. But at least they’d swapped to winter-bikes, with Captain Black astride his old bi-polar Trek, although uncertain of which incarnation he’d brought out with him. Was it “Old Faithful” or “Twatty-Mac-Twat-Face?” Only time (and the state of his legs) would tell.

Briefing in the route and with particular reference to the weather, Crazy Legs determined the planned café stop with its limited indoor seating was no longer an option, so we’d change plans and head for Belsay instead. Hmm, no shorter ride and reduced climbing for me then.

We had a sizeable turnout of around 14 riders, slightly too large for a single group, but not quite big enough to split and with none of the riders who like to push out at a faster pace present, we decided to travel en bloc. So that’s what we did, pushing off, clipping in, and riding out.

I found myself toward the back of the line alongside an FNG recently relocated from the depths of Mackem-land and together we marveled at the stupidity of anti-vaxers convinced that all doses of COVID vaccine contain a microchip that would let the government (a.k.a. The Deep State) track their every movement. We found it particularly ironic that these are the same people who tend to plaster every detail of their private lives across every available form of multi-media and are always seem umbilically attached to their mobile phones.

At some point the rain turned briefly heavy and I found myself riding off-set from the wheel in front, in a largely unsuccessful attempt to avoid the arc of cold water spraying off the back tyre. I should definitely have fought harder to find someone with mudguards to follow. I was momentarily distracted from this discomfort by some half-heard, but intriguing comments drifting up from behind me, where I’m sure someone was being referred to as the Danish Poirot. Huh?

Then we were heading up the Quarry and I watched G-Dawg pilot his fixie out the pack and take a good long run at the final, steepest ramp. I was similarly restricted to just a single-gear choice, but spinning something much, much lighter, so I didn’t need to take a run at the slope, but I did need to get the revs up and keep them there. I just about managed, with only a little bit of grinding over the final few metres and found myself up near the front as the pace picked up for the final run to the café.

The small gear I needed for the hills was going to be useless in any final sprint, so I bustled my way onto the front on the last downhill section and pushed hard on the lumpy road up to the junction at West Belsay, dodging around the horseboxes of the local hunt and the hulking 4×4 of one of their followers who would periodically overtake us, then stop, slap-bang in the middle of the road, or the apex of a junction to idly chat with other horsey-types milling around for no apparent reason.

As the road unwound down toward the Snake Bends I reached a terminal velocity of about 37 kph, the speed at which my legs were a blur and incapable of spinning around any faster. Still, I made it to within a couple of hundred metres of the imaginary finish line before Captain Black and then Alhambra caught me and whisked past, pushing big gears sur la plaque.

At the café, Crazy Legs curiously queried how many feet there were in a yard, insisting he couldn’t remember as he’s more used to metres these days. We then had the usual quiz about the number of inches in a foot, feet in a yard and yards in a mile, all of which reaffirmed what we already know: that Imperial weights and measures are neither logical or intuitive, or to put it more plainly, suck. Luckily our Dutch friend, TripleD-Be wasn’t there to berate us for still using such retard units.

There was then some discussion about differences between British and American miles (hint: there isn’t any) and British and American pints (British pints are larger), with Crazy Legs insisting that, (even more confusingly) there are actually two different length yards used in the U.S. which results in all sorts of construction issues. I was unable to confirm or deny this, but at least I got a chance to wheel out one of my favourite Dave Barry quotes: “The metric system did not really catch on in the States, unless you count the increasing popularity of the nine-millimetre.”

While we were engaged in such deep and philosophical issues, G-Dawg had sidled up to the counter and was standing there silently, empty coffee mug proferred up as, like Oliver Twist, he begged for more. Sadly, just like our fictional orphan, he got the same response and returned to his seat empty-handed. Apparently, while free refills had been reinstated post-pandemic re-opening, they’d now been withdrawn again.

G-Dawg sat and stewed for a while, then decided he really, really did need another cup of coffee, even if he had to pay for the privilege. He picked up his mug again and marched on the counter, before spinning on his heel, as he passed our table to set down his empty mug with a thud.

“If I’m paying for a refill,” he declared, “I’m getting a fresh cup!”

Small victories!

We too felt the need for additional refreshment, and Captain Black generously stood us a round. This gave Crazy Legs the chance to claim that he got a free refill, something he could taunt G-Dawg with all the way home, although I didn’t think was a good idea as he was already angry enough.

And then it was time to go, accompanied by the horror of trying to force fingers into soaked gloves and clap sodden, cold helmets onto bare heads. The first few miles were the usual chilly purgatory until we managed to get the blood flowing again. All was well until we ducked down the narrow lane to the top of Berwick Hill. I was up near the front so not sure exactly what happened, but I suspect that in reacting to a kamikaze motorist drive-past, the FNG ran out of road and came down (in popular parlance) like a sack of spuds, taking Captain Black down with him.

No great damage seemed to have been done, but the FNG banged his shoulder and didn’t want to put any more weight on it, so called for home pick-up. Crazy Legs and Captain Black formed a rearguard to hang back with him, while the rest of us pushed on for home, thankfully with no further incidents.

It wasn’t at all pretty, but I somehow made it up the Heinous Hill, so guess the question has now moved on from can I complete a club run on my single-speed, to do I really want to?


Day & Date:Saturday 30th October, 2021
Riding Time:111km/69 miles with 971m of climbing
Riding Distance:4 hours 57 minutes
Average Speed:22.3km/h
Group Size:14 riders 1 FNG
Temperature:10℃
Weather in a word or two:Damp around the edges
Year to Date:4,122km/2,561 miles with 43,732m of climbing


Tokin’ Love

Tokin’ Love

The seasons might be a man-made abstract, but this Saturday definitely felt like we’d crossed some sharp divide and, as British Summer Time officially came to an end and we nudged into Autumn, the weather underscored the transition. It felt like an overnight change and all of a sudden it was cold.

It was cold enough for my breath to visibly manifest itself as I first stepped out. Cold enough for the “deep” version of the unofficial “club” long-sleeved jersey. Cold enough for thermal socks, gloves, tights and overshoes. Cold enough for me to start out with a windproof jacker bundled on top of everything else. It wasn’t of course, cold enough to persuade G-Dawg that the time for shorts wearing is now past. He reckons he’s got another 3 or 4 weeks at least before that happens.

Then again, he’s mad.

It was also one of those days when it could rain at any given moment and I reckoned we’d be lucky to make it home without a little moistening around the edges.

Heading out on the valley floor, I was greeted by another cyclist as he overtook me and I caught up with him at the traffic lights in Blaydon. We both remarked just how noticeably cold it had suddenly become, but he at least suggested we wouldn’t see any rain until 11.00. At this point in time I’m giving the weather prognostication of random strangers as much credibility as the BBC Weather App, so I was quite buoyed by his forecast.

I rolled up to the meeting place apparently accompanied by a gust of strong-smelling weed which had Rainman sniffing at the air like a bloodhound on the scent. (At the risk of racial stereo-typing, he is Dutch, so perhaps more highly attuned to such things).

I was at pains to point out I was definitely not the source of the rather distinctive aroma, as I’m not quite au fait with the UCI’s stance on recreational drug use and didn’t want run the risk of being banned from club runs. We eventually tracked our phantom toker down to a young goth splayed across the bench in one of the bus shelters.

A spliff for breakfast, we decided was the height of decadence.

With everyone remarking on just how cold it had suddenly turned, we speculated on what OGL would be wearing this time, having throughout the past 3-weeks of remarkably mild weather resorted to more and more protective layers. G-Dawg suggested he’d probably go for a sleeping bag with holes cut out the bottom for his feet to poke through, while I thought yet more layers on top of layers until he could give a passingly good impression of the Michelin Man. I won. Temperatures are still relatively benign though, so who knows, maybe the sleeping bag will be a feature of rides to come.

Random inconsequential trivia interlude: the Michelin Man has an actual name and is called Bibendum, apparently taken from a line in one of Horace’s poems, “nunc est bibendum,” or “now is the time to drink.”

Crazy Legs pointed out the new kid, who he suggested was at bad as cornering as vintage Garrulous Kid. He was surprised to see him back for another round, as they’d guided and coaxed and talked him through every tricky corner on last weeks route, until, lulled into a false sense of security, they’d left him to his own devices and he’d somehow managed to hit the deck on one of the last and most innocuous of turns close to home.

I suggested he needed to learn the Garrulous Kid’s technique of unclipping and dabbing a foot down, like some madly cornering speedway rider. Or, maybe not.

This had us reminiscing about the Garrulous Kid’s penchant for mixing the mundane and highly questionable with the extraordinary and jaw-droppingly astounding, such as cornering so badly he ran off the road, yet somehow mange to retain traction along a wet, slippery embankment, slalom and weave his way around trees, fence-posts, walls, flower beds and gravel filled potholes, before blithely re-joining the back of the group as if nothing untoward had just happened.

In particular, Crazy Legs recalled one of his “complete and utter bastard” moments when he’d run a finger across the Garrulous Kid’s tyres and with an exaggerated “whoosh” flung his arm wide, before declaring how incredibly slippery they were. The poor Garrulous Kid had then spent the entire ride completely fixated on his front wheel, waiting for it to suddenly slide out from under him and he took every corner in painfully slow, carefully considered increments.

For today’s endeavours, G-Dawg had planned a route that took us within striking distance of all three of our regular cafe’s and cake stops and had left himself with the unenviable dilemma of choosing which one to select. He threw it open to the group.

“Why not all three,” Crazy Legs suggested, obviously thinking of getting in some early training before the reintroduction of the Flat White™ club rides. [Coming to a road near you, just as seen as the weather turns grim. Other café stop plans are available.]

In the end Capheaton got the nod, because we hadn’t been for a while and, well … free refills. I didn’t vote as I had strict orders to be home for 1.00 so would be skipping the coffee and cake. Sacrilege I know, but needs must …

With that settled we tried to split into two, but there was a reluctance to join the first group. When Brassneck was forcibly press-ganged into their ranks despite a raging hangover, I bumped off the kerb and joined up too. Misery loves company.

We finally managed a rather uneven split and away we went. I dropped in alongside Cowboy’s for a catch up, as Rainman and Jimmy Mac led us out at a pace brisk enough to finally get the blood flowing and feed a bit of warmth back into cold limbs.

Climbing out of Whalton, the legs were feeling pretty good for a rare change and I stomped on the pedals hard and joined Rainman for a while, a couple of metres off the front, with the others trailing slightly behind.

We had a chat about gravel tracks in the Netherlands and the postponed Paris-Roubaix, which promised bad weather, thrills and spills in abundance and this time really did live up to the hype, including Lizzie Diegnan’s epic and historic win in the first ever women’s version.

We simply couldn’t pick a potential winner for the men’s race and Mathieu van der Poel was probably the only one of the top 5 placed riders we name-checked, before Rainman concluded that about the only benefit of the pandemic was that we now only had to wait 7 months for the next edition of the Hell of the North.

We took a route through Angerton and out past the spring water company, Marlish Water, a road I’d only ever been down once before on one of my solo, lockdown peregrinations earlier in the year. Or was it last year? It’s all starting to blur together now.

The route then took us to the bottom of Middleton Bank, the group turned right, while I decided it was time to take my leave and kept going. I crested the hill and found I now had a delightful headwind to contend with all the way home and no wheels to shelter behind. Still, I was sure I’d left plenty of time to get home before the scheduled deadline so as not incur the wrath of she who must be obeyed.

To go with the nasty headwind, I caught a brief smattering of rain at 12.00, which was an hour later than this mornings passing cyclist forecast, but maybe he was working on Central European Time?

My ride home was on time and uneventful, other than suffering a too close pass by a certain Mr. Parker, (or maybe that should be Mr. P44rk4) in his wallowing, over-sized, battleship-grey, (B-52 style) B.U.F.F. Chelsea tractor with its personalised P44RK4 plate. I can only assume the W44NK4 plate wasn’t available at the time he bought it.

And that’s probably me done with club runs for the rest of October. Next Saturday I’m working the University Open Day and the following weekends are lined up for visits to other universities in Sheffield, Nottingham and Manchester, as Thing#2 decides what she wants to study next and where.

By the time I return it’ll be cursed winter-bike time and cold enough to have me speculatively eyeing up the sleeping bag and wondering how big a hole I need to cut in it to poke my feet through.

Until then.


Day & Date:Saturday 2nd October, 2021
Riding Time:101km/63 miles with 913m of climbing
Riding Distance:4 hours 15 minutes
Average Speed:23.7km/h
Group Size:30 riders 2 FNG’s
Temperature:8℃
Weather in a word or two:Distinctly autumnal
Year to Date:3,785km/2,352 miles with 39,544m of climbing

White Lines (Rang Dang Diggedy Dang Di-Dang)

White Lines (Rang Dang Diggedy Dang Di-Dang)

I was expecting a dry day, for a final run out on the white bike before packing it up for hibernation and that’s what I got. Well eventually. As it was the first hour of my ride was spent in light drizzly rain that wasn’t wholly unpleasant, but I would have happily missed. Still, the rain did clear and temperatures topped out at credibly perky and comfortable 19℃, not bad for September in North East England.

At the meeting point, Crazy Legs was enthused by Newcastle’s 1-1 draw with Leeds United the previous night, playing in what he described as a hugely entertaining game that could as easily have ended with 10 goals apiece.

“That’s what you get with two teams that don’t know how to defend,” G-Dawg suggested, perhaps speaking with the hard fought wisdom of a Sunderland fan. Still, despite not being able to score and a complete inability to defend, somehow Crazy Legs seems remarkably optimistic about The Toon’s chances of avoiding relegation (which seems to be the lofty pinnacle of achievement they’ve set themselves.)

Meanwhile, confusion reigned over an Agnes Obel concert at the Whitley Bay Playhouse, which Sneaky Pete and I have tickets for. Originally scheduled for 4th April 2020, but postponed because of COVID, I’d followed the announcements on the Playhouse website and had told Sneaky Pete last week that it was now going to take place this Thursday, 16th September 2021. He’d not been around for the revised date, so had gifted his tickets to his daughter to attend in his absence. Then, last Tuesday I’d checked the rather confused website to find the concert has now been moved to September 2022! Meanwhile, Sneaky Pete’s daughter had undergone some pre-concert investigation, decided she quite likes Miss Obel’s music and is keeping his ticket, thank you very much.

Hopefully it’ll be worth the wait and my yellowed, ageing and sun-bleached ticket will actually be legible enough to use some 27 months later.

OGL arrived inexplicably layered up for winter in bib-tights, a long-sleeve base layer over a winter jersey and topped with a gilet. I know the forecasts have been a little awry of late, but this was taking it to extremes and everyone else was more than comfortable in short-sleeved jerseys and shorts. We wondered if he’d received one of those dire predictions of impending doom that regularly emanate from his contacts, all of whom seemed to be based somewhere just inside the Arctic Circle.

At least he wouldn’t be riding with us, so could take things at his own pace and hopefully not overheat, as with the Beaumont Trophy and Curlew Cup running next weekend, he’d tasked himself with riding to the top of the Ryals to see if the white prime line was still visible at the top of the slope.

Aether had designated a route that was deliberately less hilly than previous weeks, reasoning everyone deserved a rest from climbing after their travails following the Tour of Britain, or our rash incursion south of the river. It was a nice idea, but I still ended up with over a thousand metres of climbing – the curse of living atop a very big hill.

We had enough for three groups, but after the first bunch got clear, everyone seemed to coalesce into one big clump and stayed that way until just before Stamfordham, when I was tasked with Brassneck to accelerate off the front and force a split. Which I have to say I quite enjoyed.

All the while, as we rode along, the pair of us we entertained ourselves with listing all the bands and artists we could think of that made up a less than inspiring North East music scene, a paltry and anaemic collection in comparison to say Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield or Glasgow.

Our list ranged from the grudgingly obvious, “ok, but no thanks” picks such as Sting and Mark Knopfler, through to up and coming hopefuls, like The Pale White, and on to the wilfully obscure, Lanterns on the Lake and Punishment of Luxury. (PuniLux anyone? No, thought not.) Like famous Cumbrians though, there wasn’t a whole lot to get excited about, even though we were convinced we were missing someone completely obvious.

Still, this kept us distracted until we reached Ryal village, were we met OGL heading the other way to check his white lines were (still) as pure as the driven snow. Bay-bee.

From there we regrouped and headed for the Quarry and alongside Brassneck we finally relinquished our lead on the front. I was slotted in behind Captain Black as we began the climb of the steepest part of the Quarry, changed down a couple of gears and was just powering up the legs when my chain seized suddenly and I performed an involuntary “front wheelie” – a stoppie or endo in motorcycling terminology.

Having the tarmac riush toward your face gives you a bit of a turn, so I immediately stopped pedalling, my rear wheel thumped back down to the ground and I climbed off. I spun the pedals by hand and everything worked perfectly. That was an odd, but I couldn’t find the cause and no damage seemed to have been done, so I remounted and finished the climb.

For our final run to the café, Liam, our Chinese rock star, hit the front and started to wind things up, so I plonked myself on his back wheel, happy to sit there as long as I could. This proved to be only until he came into one corner much too hot, swinging wide and engaging in a bit of verge-surfing and grass-cutting that robbed him of all momentum.

Oops.

Luckily Big Dunc, Brassneck and Captain Black surged through and I was able to drop in behind them without the need to spend too long on the front in the wind.

At the café we joined the back of a long queue, which moved with glacial slowness, so it took us half an hour to get served, eating into our opportunities to sit around and talk utter bolleaux.

When it was finally his turn to be served, Captain Black went for the mint Aero tray bake and was rewarded with what he was told was the biggest slice available. Aether and Brassneck followed suit and even close up inspection couldn’t discern any size advantage for Captain Black. Was this just a a sop to those getting disgruntled after waiting so long to be served, or some sort of clever marketing ploy? If the latter, they really need to speed up the service as we were desperate for any distraction as we waited and carefully comparing the relative size of slices of cake proved mildly engaging at this point.

We hadn’t been sat down for long when the multi-layered OGL turned up, looking slightly hot and bothered, either because of the warm sun that had decided to make an unexpected appearance, or because he’d discovered his white line had faded. Or maybe both.

He declared he was off home to get some fresh white paint and I think it was pure coincidence that immediately after he departed Brassneck started asking around to see if anyone had any black paint, or even paint stripper on them …

We took the slightly longer route home via Saltwick Hill and I swung off for home at the end of the Mad Mile, pedalling along and mulling over earlier conversations. Hold on. The Tygers on Pan Tang! Absolutely not a genre I’m familiar with, so I can’t tell you if they’re any good at all (although I have my suspicions.) Nevertheless worth a mention as not only a North East band, having formed in Whitley Bay, but one with a name that’s almost as stupid as Toad the Wet Sprocket.

Let’s see what other obscurities Brassneck can come up with – he’s got at least two weeks to think about it as I’m working next weekend so no club run for me.

Riding Distance:113km/70 miles with 1,010m of climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 31 minutes
Average Speed:24.9km/h
Group Size:28 riders 0 FNG’s
Temperature:19℃
Weather in a word or two:Canny like
Year to date3,514km/2,183 miles with 36,796m of climbing
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Rudy Can’t Fail

Rudy Can’t Fail

I can’t say I’m at all happy with the Tour of Britain organisers, after excelling themselves by channelling the 2019 edition right past my front door, they decided to spoil things for 2021 with a route that wouldn’t come any closer than 1.7 miles of home. That’s 2.7 kilometres to those not using retard units. What on earth were they thinking?

Clubmates had all sorts of plans for taking in the event, ranging from travelling to the Grand Depart, in Carlisle, to cycling out to meet the race somewhere along it’s sinuous and very lumpy 2,000 kilometres and accompanying 3,000 metres of vertical gain (ulp!) A fun day off, although anticipation and plans were somewhat tempered by poor weather forecasts.

Crazy Legs, our reporter on the ground at the Grand Depart in Carlisle cast Cav and Alaphillipe as a couple of naughty schoolboys amongst the serious and sober adults, while anyone who travelled further out than me were likely to have witnessed the unlikely sight of the Tour de France’s most successful sprinter showing off his climbing chops and leading an early breakaway over some serious hills.

I’d picked out two potential viewing spots for myself, Busty Bank, leading from Rowlands Gill up to Burnopfield, 1.5 km at an average of 9%, or Pennyfine Road, skirting Burdon Moor to the top of Haggs Lane, 1.2km at only 5%, but with long, straight and wide open views. The latter was closest, so that’s what I went for, tracking the race progress on TV before skittering out to watch it go past.

TripleD-El and Triple D-Be had already reported Cav’s break had been caught from where they were stationed on Busty Bank. Minutes later, when the race arrived where I was, a small, select group including Julian Alaphillipe, Wout Van Aert, Dan Martin, and Ethan Hayter were being led by impressive Spanish youngster Carlos Rodríguez and trying to claw back an attack by Mike Woods.

Mike Woods in full flight

The rest of the field were smashed to pieces and scattered all over the road behind and it must have been a hard stage as I’ve never seen professional cyclists grimacing quite so much on (for them) such relatively benign slopes. Rolling down the bank toward home, I bumped into TripleD-El and Triple D-Be and stopped for a chat as we waited for the remnants of the peloton to roll through, almost 30 minutes behind the leaders.

As usual. it was great to get up close to the action, especially given the stellar field using the Tour of Britain as preparation for the World Championships.

The next day I had planned the long demanded, long delayed (Lazy. Indolent. Remember?) journey south of the river and into the dread lands of Mordor. With my original route covering 125km and close to 2,000 metres of climbing including some steep gradients, I planned an early 8am start, just to make sure I got everyone back home before dusk, come what may. Unimpressed with the thought of getting up at 6am to cycle across to the meeting point, I decided to drive, figuring this would save my legs a well as some time.

The excesses of the day before on the Tour of Britain route knocked out a hatful of contenders for the ride and when Cowboys cried off sick there were just 4 of us plucky, but trepidatious hobbits willing to take on this particular unexpected journey. I met Crazy Legs and Brassneck at the meeting point, with plans to pick up the Ticker en route, at The Sign of the Prancing Pony (I think that’s what he said) somewhere in Wylam.

Our early departure meant we could say hi-and-bye to the Judean People’s Front, also leaving early for their own mini-epic. They we heading north, we were heading south and apparently the Prof was taking a group west. It only needed G-Dawg to take our regular Saturday ride east and we’d have all the cardinal points covered.

Crazy Legs had blackmailed the much-cossetted Ribble out into last weeks rain with whispered promises of a new cassette and had made good on his promises with the cleanest, shiniest set of cogs I’ve ever seen. Sadly though, it just made his chain look tired and dirty. He also hadn’t tested it extensively, but that was fine, as I guessed we’d very quickly know if he couldn’t select the full range of climbing gears.

So away we went, bolstered by the first earworm of the day courtesy of Mr. Iggy Pop as, according to Crazy Legs, we started to ride through the city’s backsides. I knew on the very first climb I was having a jour sans, the legs felt heavy and tired, but I reasoned that was fine as everyone would wait for me if I was too slow – one of the perks of being the designated ride leader on roads nobody else knows.

We seemed to have caught a break with the weather which was pleasantly warm and dry, although a fairly strong wind kept things a couple of notches below ideal and might be a problem once we were out into the exposed North Pennines.

Our trio were soon dropping down toward Wylam and our rendezvous with the Ticker. He wasn’t there when we arrived, so Crazy Legs went off in search of a shop while I waited with Brassneck. Moments later the Ticker arrived, but the minutes crawled past and Crazy Legs failed to return.

“What shop did he say he was going to?” Brassneck enquired.

“Fenwick’s,” the Ticker shot back, quickly, naming the venerable department store in Newcastle city centre some 15 miles distant.

While we waited, our attention wandered to a small park across the road where a man was walking a small dog.

“Hold on,” the Ticker exclaimed, “Is’nt that Rudy Giuliani?”

We scoffed.

“It looks like Giuliani,” the Ticker insisted, “And walks like Giuliani …”

We peered across the road. You know, maybe he was right.

It did look like Giuliani and certainly the posture and the walk resembled that of the ex-mayor of New York City and ex-President’s lawyer. I mean there was no dye dripping down this fellers face, but then again it was a bit too chill for that and, we concluded, what better place to hide from a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit, professional disbarment and general ridicule than a small village in the Tyne Valley? Crazier, more unbelievable things have happened. Well, at least according to Mr. Giuliani and his ilk.

Crazy Legs finally returned from breaking what was perhaps the only card payment system in the entire village and we left Rudy with his cover intact to follow the river out to the bridge at Bywell where we crossed to the south side of the river, Crazy Legs crossing himself, muttering a prayer to the heavens and taking one last gulp of good northern air across with him.

A right past Stocksfield and then a left and the real climbing began on the single-lane “goaty track” (©Juan Antonio Flecha) up through Shilford Woods. It wasn’t long before I heard the “Aw fuck!” exclamation of someone who’s just found there already in the smallest gear and there’s nothing easier left. Luckily, at least Crazy Legs had access across the full range of his cassette.

From the top we dropped down a little just to get a good run at the climb to Whittonstall and I had to tell the Ticker to keep pedalling as the noise of his Hope freewheel was scaring the sheep. The climb to Whittonstall reminds me of the Ryals (but without the dip in the middle) the approach road is wide open and draggy and, like the Ryals, you can see it coming from miles away. It hurts about as much too.

From there we had the respite of a nice long descent down to Ebchester, crossing over the River Derwent and heading almost due south until Shotley Bridge, where we crossed back over the river and started the climb of Burnmill Bank.

Half way up the climb, just before the small cluster of houses making up Snod’s Edge, Brassneck recognised the football pitch somewhat incongruously carved into the side of the hill in the middle of nowhere, remembering years back when his work team used to play a rival firm there every week.

Further on, having topped the climb and taken in a long descent down toward the reservoir, we passed Muggleswick and Crazy Legs recalled how his gran had been in service at Muggleswick Hall. She only had half a day off work a week, so every Sunday afternoon she’d walk the 6 or so miles that was either up hill or down, along the route we’d just covered, to Shotley Bridge. There she caught a train to take her to Newcastle and home, where she stayed until leaving to catch the last train back to Shotley Bridge, then retracing her steps, 6 miles up and down hill, often in the dark and in whatever weather was thrown at her.

Much different times and, as Crazy Legs confirmed, his gran had truly been as hard as nails.

To complete the set, the route also stirred some deep-seated recollections in the Ticker too, but these were not quite of the rosy-eyed nostalgia variety. His recall was of the “twattin’ climb out of Blanchland” that we were going to be taking.

The road past the reservoir was as busy as I’ve ever known it and we had to single out until we reached Edmunbuyers as a constant stream of traffic squeezed past. Then, somewhat eerily, the traffic just disappeared. In the village we were almost lured into The Baa which, according to its website, “might be the smallest pub in the world, but probably isn’t.” Nevertheless it looked very welcoming, yet we somehow we managed to resist the temptation and pressed on, rattling over the cattle grid to pass out on the wiley, windy moors.

This was going to be our longest climb of the day and on exposed roads along the side of Harehope Hill, just over 5.3 kilometres and with the wind constantly pushing us backwards. This meant that the Ticker could only freewheel intermittently and it wasn’t enough to scare off the sheep who would crowd unconcerned onto the road to watch the idiots grunt and gurn their way past. Well, it was their domain after all.

The Ticker and Brassneck pushed on ahead, while I rode with Crazy Legs as long as I could, before slipping out of the shelter of his back wheel to find a pace I was more comfortable with. We regrouped at the turn off toward Blanchland, climbing to our highest point of of the day before our descent into the village.

Refreshments were taking at the White Monk Tearoom, bacon sandwiches and coffees all round (we like to keep it simple) and we took up residence in the garden along with our bikes, joining a gang of bikers, looking uncomfortably warm and sweaty in their thick leathers.

Unfortunately they left quite soon after we arrived. Before that they seemed to have been doing sterling job of attracting the local wasps, but once they’d gone the pesky blighters decided to harass us instead. Coffee and sarnies were good, if maybe a little too exotically priced for the frugal cyclist at a tenner a head. (I recall G-Dawg observing that cyclists don’t seem to mind dropping £8-£10 grand on a bike, but are super-sensitive when it comes to the spare change they have to cough up for their coffee and cake.)

We manged to escape without annoying the wasps too much and after Crazy Legs managed to recover from an insane and unexpected fit of giggles. Then it was back onto the bikes to take on the “twattin’ climb out of Blanchland.”

Crazy Legs complained his current earworm of “Super Trooper” wasn’t really cutting it, but he soon found it could have been a lot worse, as having visited the toilets in the tearoom, the Ticker had been subjected to the Dr. Hook Classic, “When You’re in Love With A Beautiful Woman” and now had that uncomfortably lodged in his brain. I think I dodged a bullet as my own musical accompaniment to the bathroom was Nillson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’.” I could live with that.

I snuck onto the granny ring on the triple to tackle to 20%+ inclines on Park Bank and managed to spin up plonked firmly on the saddle and without too much effort then, banking off of the northeast winds, we were heading home and all the major climbing was behind us.

We made it back to Whittonstall and enjoyed a short, unspectacular descent that seemed to bear little resemblance to its long, steep and grinding ascent. A swift downhill run to the river placed us back in Stocksfield and we were soon traversing the bridge over the Tyne and celebrating our return to civilisation.

As we approached the end of the bridge we passed another cyclist heading the other way and greeted him warmly, only to be rebuffed by a growling admonition, “Keep to yer lane!” Perhaps it was the trepidation of riding south of the river that made him so tetchy? Maybe we should have told him it wasn’t as bad as people made out?

From there we decided to head to Wylam and climb out of the valley there, rather than taking in the final climb of Hospital Lane up from Newburn. Near the top I was caught and passed by a swift moving white blur that turned out to be Spry, who’d been following the route, but had probably started two or more hours after us.

The Ticker left us at this point to track his own way home, while the rest of us took on the final, relatively flat final 10km back to where we started. We survived and everyone seemed to enjoy the ride, so I’m guessing we’ll be doing it again next year, once the weather starts to pick up.


Riding Distance:118km/73 miles with 1,550m of climbing
Riding Time:5 hours 4 minutes
Average Speed:23.3km/h
Group Size:4 plucky but trepidatious hobbits, with a brief cameo from Legolas
Temperature:15℃
Weather in a word or two:Heads
Year to date:3,514km/2,183 miles with 36,796m of climbing