Time. I just can’t seem to scrape together enough of this elusive, precious resource these days.
— or maybe, I’m just lazy.
Either way, it took me an excruciating 3-weeks to write-up and post about my misadventures in the Alps and all the while weekends kept ticking past. I now realise I’m in danger of losing this blerg’s raison d’etre, the celebration of the venerable club run, with all it’s attendant lurid colour, madness, madcap characters, incessant chatter and mayhem.
I was hoping to report that normal service would now be resumed, but events have conspired against me. More of that later, but first a brief recap of what I’ve missed and what you’ve been spared …
Club Run, Saturday 22nd June : Got a Short, Little, Span of AttentionDistance : 109km Elevation Gain: 1,133 m Riding Time: 4 hours 2 minutes
My first ride back from the Alps, not quite recovered and riding with very heavy legs. The Monkey Butler Boy wore a new pair of shorts complete with a sheer, translucent back panel, which is undoubtedly marketed as being more aero. The Red Max branded them as vaguely obscene and off-putting and insisted the Monkey Butler Boy ride behind him at all times. I wondered if, given this animal-like, ritual display, a change of name to Baboon Butler Boy wasn’t in order.
The Red Max complained the Monkey Butler Boy had stolen his trademark use of selected red highlights, although, to be fair the Red Max has never taken it to the extreme of exposing a big, pimply, scarlet baboon-ass in his quest for colour co-ordination.
At the cafe, talk turned to the upcoming Team Time Trial which Captain Black has somehow found himself press-ganged into riding. Throughout the discussion he kept looking at me with pleading eyes and silently mouthing “Help” and “Save Me” across the table. Sadly, I felt powerless to intervene.
As well as the physical pain and torment of actually riding the event, he may also have to suffer the indignity and mental anguish of donning our most unloved of club jersey’s. Astonishingly, the Cow Ranger declared wearing the club jersey should make you feel ten feet tall and unbeatable.
So, apparently not like a giant box of orange and lime Tic Tacs, then?
Club Run, Saturday 29th June : Topsy TurvyDistance : 122km Elevation Gain: 1,140 m Riding Time: 4 hours 37 minutes
A genius route, planned by Taffy Steve that turned our entire world upside down and shattered all kinds of preconceived notions. He had us riding up to Rothley Crossroads the wrong way, using the route we usually take to get away from the hated junction. It’s hated because we usually get there via a long, leaden drag, on lumpen, heavy roads, not quite steep enough to be called proper climbing, but not flat enough to power up sitting in the saddle.
Guess what? The alternative route is even worse…
Amidst much wailing, moaning and gnashing of teeth, I heard several riders vow they would never, ever, ever complain about our more typical route up to Rothley Crossroads again.
The ride was noteworthy as, perhaps the first time, we’d had a full complement of all four of our current refugees from the Netherlands out at the same time. As Taffy Steve quipped, we had numbers enough to form our own Dutch corner.
At the cafe, budding biological scientist the Garrulous Kid insulted our European compatriots by insisting the metric system was “crap.” He declared what we really needed was a decimal system that was easy to use, adaptable, internationally recognised, universally accepted and simple to pick up and apply. (Yes, I know he just described the metric system, but remember this is in Garrulous Kid World, which is dangerously unhitched from reality.)
Club Run, Saturday 29th June : Great British Bicycle Rides with Philomena Crank Distance : 122km Elevation Gain: 1,140 m Riding Time: 4 hours 37 minutes
My second annual Anti-Cyclone Ride, which has grown from a base of just two participants, Taffy Steve and The Red Max three years ago, to the 2019 edition which reached almost standard club run numbers. Twenty-two of us set out for a route that would occasionally intersect with the Cyclone Sportive, most importantly at a number of feed-stations where copious amounts of cake and coffee could be purchased.
For me, the most notable moment of the day was when my left hand crank slowly unwound from it’s spindle and came off, still attached to my shoe by its cleat. The Goose helped me fit it back on using the pinch bolts, but the crank cap appeared damaged. Still, I managed to make it the rest of the way around our route and right to the bottom of the Heinous Hill, before I felt my foot tracing that weird lemniscate pattern as the crank unwound again.
Bad luck, but reasonable timing, as it happened right outside Pedalling Squares cycling cafe. I was able to call in to their bike workshop, the Brassworks, where Patrick patched me up enough to get the rest of the way up the hill and home.
Later in the week the bike would travel back down to the Brassworks for a proper fix and, as a special treat, top to bottom service. I’ve no idea what was to blame for the unfortunate mechanical, perhaps the bike was damaged in transit after all?
And that’s me pretty much caught up and back on schedule. With Reg still convalescing, I was looking forward to a rare summer club run aboard the Peugeot, my winter bike.
I prepped the bike the night before and things were going well as I crossed the river and started backtracking down the valley. That was when my bottom bracket started to creak and complain.
By the time I started climbing out the other side, the creaking had turned into a full on chorus of complaints, as if a nest full of ever-hungry fledglings had taken up residence in my bottom bracket and were demanding to be fed.
A bit of tinkering gave temporary relief, but it wasn’t long before the hungry birds returned with a vengeance. I reluctantly pulled the pin and aborted the ride, turning back. Even if the bottom bracket had held up mechanically, I couldn’t ride with that cacophony as an accompaniment.
Home by 9.30, too late to join the club, but too early to call it a day, I pulled out my bike of last resort, the single-speed I use for commuting. I bravely and foolishly decided to head due-south, for a few loops around the Silver Hills, where I used to ride as a kid. You’d think I’d know better by now.
My ride profile shows the change, my clearly defined ride of two halves, as I went from relatively benign to brutally bumpy. This included a couple of 4th Category climbs with 25% gradients and lots of ragged, wet and gravel-strewn surfaces. Single-speed vs. Silver Hills is definitely an unequal contest, but I got a decent work-out and, to be honest, I quite enjoyed myself in an odd, masochistic and not-to-be-soon-repeated sort of way.
YTD Totals: 4,651 km / 2,890 miles with 62,397 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 118 km / 73 miles with 1,242 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 30 minutes
Average Speed: 26.2 km/h
Group size: 7 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Hot
I couldn’t summon up even a single jot of enthusiasm for doing the Cyclone this year, so while the majority discussed their 106-mile, 90-mile and 64-mile ride options, I cast about for other, like-minded club members to see if we could have a normal-ish Saturday club run.
The Red Max and Taffy Steve seemed up for doing something “not-different” – so we put it out there as an alternative to see who else we might entice along.
Saturday morning was grey and overcast, seeming to promise a brief interlude to all the hot, sunny weather we’d been experiencing all week. It was still indecently warm and a dry day seemed guaranteed, so I gave the weather no more thought as I clipped in and pitched down the Heinous Hill.
After two week absence, I was pleased to find the bridge at Newburn still closed to cars, although less pleased that the ramp over the washed out section of road had collapsed somewhat. I grounded my chain coming off it and decided it was probably best if I no longer used it as an impromptu time-trial start gate.
Main topics of conversation at the start
I arrived at the meeting point just in time to spot the backside of Richard of Flanders disappearing out of sight as he attacked the ramps leading up to the top of the multi-storey car park. I wondered if he had a secret Strava KOM up there. He suggested he’d just never been up before, so wanted to see what it was like. Hmm.
Slowly a small knot started to coalesce and by the time we’d rolled out, we were 7 strong – the Anticyclone Seven, as Taffy Steve would dub us.
The Red Max has been organising regular Wednesday evening runs, a leg-shredding, set 30-mile loop run at full-bore, on-the-rivet, balls-to-the-wall, maximum speed. This Darwinian, survival of the fittest has already reduced grown men to tears, including the likes of Carlton (who vowed never to do it again, before promptly turning up for another go a few weeks later).
I’ve started referring to the rides as the Circus Maximus and suspect it’s only a matter of time before the Red Max turns up with scythes attached to his wheels.
Richard of Flanders has thrown himself wholeheartedly into this madness, apparently shouting “Have it!” as he continually attacks off the front, is caught and immediately attacks again.
I suggested what he was probably shouting was actually “Havoc!” as a prelude to letting slip the dogs of war…
Now Max suggested that Taffy Steve might enjoy the Circus Maximus experience too.
“What ride 10 mile in from the coast after work, red-line my heart, shred my legs, burn out my lungs for an hour and then ride 10 mile back to the coast?” Taffy Steve enquired.
“Yes!” a gleeful Red Max insisted, his evident enthusiasm over-riding any perceived negatives in this plan.
“Err .. No, thanks.”
Richard of Flanders described downloading an Irish narrator/navigator to his Sat-Nav, hoping for some soft, lyrical, lilting and calm directions. I was only at the start of a very long road trip that he belatedly discovered what he’d actually selected was a rampant, rabid, Ian Paisley/Nationalist Ulsterman.
“I think yeell find ye don’t want to go dine thar!” it shouted, before declaiming loudly, “Ye should just go dine sighff!”
Luckily, we had no need of a Sat-Nav today as the Red Max had something in mind, which thoughtfully included several stops for coffees.
As we started the countdown toward Garmin Muppet Time, the sun broke through the clouds and I was able to shed and stow the arm warmers. This was the start of what would be a long and sustained bout of unexpected sun, which would see me getting home with bright red, burned kneecaps. Where’s the cloud when you need it?
The ride was progressing well as we traversed the Mitford Steads. I was on the front with Richard of Flanders when we rounded a corner and startled a young roe deer casually ambling across the road. The deer’s flight instincts kicked in so hard that it lost all traction on the tarmac and I could hear its claws skittering and skeetering across the top of the slick road as it did a quick Bambi on ice impersonation, before finding its feet and crashing away into the woods.
We paused at Dyke Neuk, which was a mistake as we were now on the route of the Cyclone and had to wait for a break in the stream of passing cyclists before we could get going again. When we did, the Red Max switched to full-on, loopy-Labrador mode and started chasing down anything that moved, gradually working his way up the stream of riders by jumping from wheel to wheel.
Luckily, the Cyclone was routed up the next right hand turn and we were able to regroup before howling down the Hartburn dip and up the other side. We started plugging our way toward Scot’s Gap, catching and passing a lone cyclist. Rab Dee glanced round, saw the Cyclone number on the rider’s bars and told him he had missed a turn and was off course. The Cyclonist turned around to retrace his steps and hopefully, find the right route.
In the distance, Rab spotted another lone cyclist and took off to see if they too were riding the Cyclone and had gone astray. Accelerating to catch her, we found that she too had missed the turn and was heading in the wrong direction. She had apparently started out in a group of friends, but had been dropped and left to her own devices. The Red Max provided instructions for her to re-join the course without having to backtrack and we pressed on.
Through Scot’s Gap and on to Cambo, the Red Max sniffed the air and decisively declared, “Coffee!” We swung left off the road and into one of the Cyclone feed stations, where the welcoming local residents had opened up the Church Hall to sell cakes and coffees.
We grabbed coffee and cake and wondered outside to sit on the grass and enjoy the sun. Here we discussed unequal wear of pedals and cleats, which was largely dependent on which foot you tended to release when you clipped out. Most of us were left-footers, but Rab Dee was a right footer. With his right pedal worn out from over-use, but the left almost as good as new, he wondered if there was the potential for a pedal-exchange programme with a suitably discomfited left-footer.
As we preparing to leave, one our earlier strays turned up, having failed to follow the Red Max’s explicit instructions. She’d done about 26 miles of the 64-mile route and had less than 20 still to do. Still, on the positive side, she was well ahead of the people she’d been riding with and had a chance to either beat them home, or wait around to join them, fresh for the last leg.
We were back on the Cyclone route for the bad descent down through Wallington (high speed, vicious rumble strips and a narrow bridge make this a bit tricky for the unwary) but we were ahead of most cyclists at this point.
We then left the route as it headed for the Ryals and had a fast run toward Capheaton. At the junction, Richard of Flanders and Slow Drinker set off for home and Rab Dee went off for a longer ride out. I pushed on with the Red Max, Taffy Steve and Zardoz toward more coffee at the Capheaton Tea Rooms.
“The problem with multiple coffee stops,” the Red Max explained, “Is multiple coffee stop sprints.”
We got coffee and cake and found a table on the tearoom balcony. Here we heard all about the Monkey Butler Boy, lavishing all the money from his new Call Centre job on bike bits – much to the disgust of an old timer sitting next to us, who couldn’t work why anyone needed a power-meter. (I had a lot of sympathy for his view).
The Red Max outlined a plan to take Coffee Interlude#3 at Stamfordham and then pick up the tail-end of the Cyclone route, once all the riders had an ascent of the Ryals in their legs, at which point he conjectured they’d be easy pickings!
We left our shady sanctuary and took to the sunny roads again, stopping to try to work out what the odd machine perched in the bed of a truck was. After careful examination, Zardoz and the Red Max concluded it was a vintage, steam powered, electrical generator. I bowed to their superior engineering expertise, quite frankly I didn’t have a clue.
For a refreshing change, we went down the Quarry climb, joined the Cyclone route just after the Ryals and pushed on for Stamfordham.
The Red Max and Zardoz stopped for coffee and ice cream, but I decided it was getting late and it was time to head for home. Taffy Steve agreed and we set off at a decent clip, working our way around a steady stream of tired Cyclonists as we pushed on.
Just before Callerton, I split from Taffy Steve and the Cyclone route and started my drop down toward the river and home.
I was back just a couple of minutes later than usual, having had a thoroughly relaxed and enjoyable alternative Cyclone.
YTD Totals: 3,914 km / 2,4,32 miles with 49,186 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 116 km / 72 miles with 1,183 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 20 minutes
Average Speed: 26.8 km/h
Group size: 34 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Muy agradable
Saturday again and everything was looking good. It had been so cold during a couple of early morning commutes that I’d been forced back into wearing gloves, but the temperatures were creeping up as we approached the weekend. The arm warmers were still a necessary accessory, but I felt safe in discarding the windproof jacket as I took to the roads.
A pipe had burst at the top of the Heinous Hill and water was bubbling up around a manhole cover in the middle of the road. I rode downstream, getting a somewhat uncomfortable early shower for my efforts. I would like to say that it was refreshing and woke me up, but all it did was make the descent a little chillier.
At the roundabout in Blaydon there was yet more water washing across the tarmac, although this time I couldn’t determine its source. Again, I was liberally and unpleasantly sprayed and chilled, but the road was soon climbing and fighting the slope warmed me up again.
The factory digital readout I passed said 24°C already and once again, I questioned how accurately it had been calibrated. It was however undeniably pleasant out, the traffic was relatively light and I passed numerous other cyclists as I made my way across to the meeting point. With the good weather and a certain over-blown event in Windsor to try and avoid, I suspected it was going to be a well-attended ride.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Caracol arrived on a new bike, a Parlee frame that he’d built up from scratch. The only problem was, something around the back end was constantly rattling and it was driving him too distraction.
“Too much oil on the chain,” Crazy Legs suggested knowingly, he thought a bit more, “Or, maybe too little oil on the chain.”
A few people had a good look and a poke around, but the source of the annoying rattle remained elusive.
OGL was looking for volunteers willing to ride the 106 mile Cyclone Route and generate a Strava file for him. Although he’s very much a Strava-denier, British Cycling have requested the files, so he doesn’t seem to have a choice. He seemed blissfully unaware that you can plot a route without actually having to ride it and, as a result, he’s intent on setting out early on Sunday morning for a 6-hour plus excursion to plot the 90-miler himself.
I suggested that if he did need to physically record the ride, he could do it a lot quicker and easier in a car, but he just looked at me blankly, so I left him to it.
I’m no Strava-superfan, but it definitely beats colouring-in the little 10-mile blocks on a mileage chart pulled from Cycling Weekly and pinned to the bumpy supaglypta in my bedroom in the “good old days” (i.e. when everything was … well, all a bit crap, really). I always started out with good intentions, but don’t think I ever fully completed one of those charts across a full year.
As suspected a combination of good weather and a desire to avoid a sadly unavoidable, turgid, bombastic and anachronistic event happening about 300 miles away, drew out a bumper group of over 30 cyclists, who, it just so happened, appeared to be exclusively male.
Jimmy Mac took to the pulpit-wall to outline the route for the day. As threatened, it included a rare ascent of the Ryals, perhaps as a sop to the Garrulous Kid (who has probably ridden up them more times in the past 4 months than I have in my lifetime) – or perhaps because Jimmy Mac was feeling underutilised and unappreciated at work and wanted to drum up a few more vascular surgeries. Then again, perhaps he’s just a sadist of the highest order.
(We have asked the Garrulous Kid why he has such an affinity to the Ryals, which are a short, violent and not especially enjoyable climb and learned that “they’re fun” and “good training.” Good training for what I’m not quite sure, other than riding up and down the Ryals. We expected him to show a high degree of expertise when we finally got there.)
Our group included Big Dunc in a new, riotously colourful, Bardiani CSF jersey, which we all felt would make a decent, exotic substitute for our own remarkably unloved club jersey. OGL studiously ignored it.
The good weather had even drawn out Famous Seans, a triathlete who, even by triathlete standards, is a bit different and resolutely marches to the beat of his own drum. As usual, he expressed his individuality by wearing very long, knee length socks and short-shorts – he was probably exposing as much flesh as everyone else, it was just framed a little higher.
The plan was to split into two groups and I hung back to try and assess just how well we managed this simple-sounding, but seldom successful task. Miracle of miracles, for once the front group actually looked slightly smaller than the one behind, so I tagged onto the back of it and away we went.
Heading out along Brunton Lane, we passed a high-speed Captain Black heading in the opposite direction, having forsaken his clubmates for a solo run and evidently intent on getting home in time to watch the Royal Wedding.
Through Ponteland, buzzed and flipped off by a motorist overtaking at high speed, Richard of Flanders fully embraced his, Grey Pilgrim/Gandalf persona, chasing down the car at some traffic lights before intoning, “You cannot pass!” to its clearly Balrog occupants.
He tried reasoning with them and even went as far as gesturing to the Garrulous Kid and explaining we were riding with youngsters and such driving was decidedly anti-social, if not downright dangerous. For his part, the Garrulous Kid tried to duck down and look younger than his years. It didn’t work, but I’m not sure it would have made any difference anyway.
Through the town and we picked up a waiting Cowin’ Bovril, who’d used the pre-published route to intercept us without having to ride to the meeting point. He rode with us for a while, before I confirmed his mates were riding in the second group and he dropped back to join them.
We set a fairly brisk pace, covering much of the route that will be used for the National Road Championship in July and noting just how bad the road surface is in places, gravel-strewn, potholed and broken up. So bad, in fact that on the downhill from Hallington and travelling just behind me, Famous Seans hit a pothole with a yelp and pulled over.
As we turned onto the main road leading to the Ryals, I told Jimmy Mac about the possible mechanical and the call went out for everyone to wait at the top of the hill to regroup and assess the damage.
I slowed as the slope loomed ahead and found Crazy Legs cruising along, suffering from a self-confessed jour sans. He gestured at the Ryals and told the Garrulous Kid that this is what he’d been waiting for and to go and get on with it. The Garrulous Kid raced away and I followed at a more considered pace, running my chain up the block as the first and steepest ramp started to bite.
Ahead of me, the Garrulous Kid began thrashing and flailing his way upwards, all jutting elbows and a too-busy style, like Fabio Aru trying to simultaneously shake off a cloud of flies while keeping both hands gripped firmly on the bars. He spearheaded a small knot including Keel and the Rainman as they clawed their way, slowly up into the sky.
Cresting the first ramp, I changed down, accelerated toward the second, slightly easier slope and started climbing out of the saddle. Then, in super-slow-motion, I started to winch back those ahead of me. I swung across into the opposite lane and eased past a flagging and weaving Keel, then passed the Rainman, before tracking back to the left to draw alongside the Garrulous Kid as the slope finally started to level out
Digging in, a re-invigorated Rainman found the impetus to latch onto my wheel as I passed and I pulled him over the crest. As the gradient lessened, he accelerated away and I dropped in behind for a fast tow up to the village.
Regrouping, we learned that Famous Seans had jarred his tri-bars loose, but was good to continue, so we pressed on toward the Quarry.
“I’m gonna put you in the shade!” Biden Fecht declared as he eased out in front of me, blocking the sun. I told him I’d always consider myself as riding in his shadow.
Away up the Quarry we went, swinging right at the top this time to avoid any chance of a repeat of last week’s double-puncture disaster. The pace increased and I took whatever opportunities I could to move up the outside, before slotting into fourth place with just Jimmy Mac, the Colossus and Caracol in front.
I wanted to put in a little dig on the rises up to the final junction, but approaching traffic kept me confined to the left hand lane. At the junction itself, a call of “bike left” made me hesitate and look twice and a small gap opened in front of me as we turned onto the road down toward the Snake Bends. I worked to close it, even as the Colossus and Caracol put clear air between themselves and Jimmy Mac as they fought out the final sprint.
Slowly, painfully, I closed on Jimmy Mac’s rear wheel, until I reached a point when I thought, you know, if I really shred my legs, burst my heart, trash my lungs and inflict horrible injury on myself, I might just be able to squeeze ahead of him … but, was it even worth trying?
Well, of course it was …
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
We arrived to find the café almost completely empty, but the garden already half full. It was good timing, as by the time everyone else had piled in, the café would still be empty, but the queue would extend out the door and the garden would be ringed in a perimeter of bikes, sometimes two or three machines deep. Much to the disgust of the Monkey Butler Boy he even found that someone had dared to carefully lean their bike up against his brand new machine. For one moment I thought he might cry.
Caracol was still perturbed by his mysterious rattle and had decided that when he got home he’d try swapping out different parts to try and locate the errant component. He started a litany of things he could consider changing over:
“Wheels … cassette … derailleur … pedals, even though I know it’s not the pedals … brakes …saddle …”
“The frame?” someone suggested helpfully.
A late arriving Red Max press-ganged the Monkey Butler Boy into getting him a Coke and a cake and a coffee, and Caracol offered up his mug for a refill too; “While you’re there.” It all seemed simple enough and reluctantly the Monkey Butler Boy dragged himself off to join the queue.
5 minutes later and he was back, Caracol’s still empty coffee mug swinging loosely in his hand.
“What did you want again?” he asked the Red Max.
“A Coke and a cake and a coffee.”
“Oh, yeah. Got it” Off he went to join the back of the queue again.
I took a few mugs in for a refill and found the Monkey Butler Boy about a third of the way through the queue. I relieved him of Caracol’s mug, thinking it would ease some of the pressure on the Red Max’s terribly complex order. If pressed, I would swear the Monkey Butler Boy was standing there mumbling too himself, “err … a Coke and cake and a coffee … a Coke a cake and a coffee …”
Sometime later, the Monkey Butler Boy returned triumphantly. With a Coke and a cake…
Meanwhile, the Garrulous Kid had appeared, pointed to a teeny-tiny graze on his elbow and informed us that he’d punctured and not only punctured, but fallen off too. I’m still not sure if the two actions were in any way related. Close questioning was no help in revealing how, or when, or where these events occurred, but we may just have been distracted by the concept of the Garrulous Kid successfully sorting out his own puncture.
Slow Drinker wandered past and Crazy Legs wished him a happy birthday for the day before. Crazy Legs then spotted that he too seemed to have been in the wars, as the Slow Drinkers legs were marred with grazes.
“Oh, have you come off?” Crazy Legs wondered.
“No, no, they’re just carpet burns,” Slow Drinker replied cryptically, before wandering away.
Must have been one hell of a birthday party…
The Monkey Butler Boy confessed he’d almost been late this morning as he’d been cornered in the bike shed by his arch nemesis a wasp. Luckily, he’d somehow managed to batter his way out of this dire predicament by using a spare pair of wheels as an improvised, giant fly-swatter. I thought such undaunted bravery deserved a mention.
He also revealed his dad had told him if he shaved off his incipient, bum-fluff moustache, it would grow back thicker, stronger and much manlier. Two months on and with a completely bare upper lip, he’s still waiting.
The Garrulous Kid had family commitments and had to leave early. This coincided with OGL’s departure for a ride back “at his own pace.” It looked like they’d have the opportunity to ride together…
“I don’t know which one to pity the most,” I confessed to the Colossus.
He reassured me not to worry, they’d probably ride the whole way back separated by about 10 yards and in stoic silence.
When it was out turn to leave, we got split into two groups by traffic and as we left the main road for quieter lanes, I decided to try and bridge across to the front group. I made good progress at first, but they weren’t hanging around and as I drew closer I found myself battering head-on into a stiff breeze that had blown up out of nowhere.
I was just deciding whether to sit up, or give it one last effort to avoid an embarrassing stint of chasse-patate, when the Monkey Butler Boy announced from behind that he’d decided to come across too. He took the lead, I dropped onto his wheel and with added impetus quickly closed the gap to the front group.
Here I had time to learn from the Red Max that last week, I had correctly identified the Monkey Butler Boy as a virulent, sock-length fascist, before the group started shedding riders as we each took our own route home.
Despite the nagging headwind, the sky was bright and clear and it was still uncommonly hot. For perhaps the first time this year, I noticed a clammy feeling of sweat forming behind my knees as I pushed the pedals round. The water, from who knows where, was still washing across the road in Blaydon, but this time I welcomed the cooling, impromptu shower thrown up by my tyres.
Sadly, the effect didn’t last long and I was soon heading uphill and hot and bothered.
Finally I stepped across the kitchen threshold, over-heated and gasping from climbing the Heinous Hill. Here, with impeccable timing Mrs. Sur la Jante pressed a Solero ice cream into my sweaty hand. Now that’s what I call service.
YTD Totals: 2,952 km / 1,834 miles with 34,562 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 104 km / 65 miles with 819 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 26 minutes
Average Speed:23.3 km/h
Group size:16 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Rotten to start, decent to end
The start on Saturday morning felt pretty much like a continuation of last week’s weather – temperatures hovering just above freezing and cold wind driven in on a blustery wind. Still, it wasn’t quite wet enough to resort to my rain jacket and was nowhere as bad as my commute into work on Wednesday morning, when it was so cold it had actually hurt, a stark -4°C.
And, while the Prof is still distant and riding with the Back Street Boys tribute band, he’d taken the time out between dance rehearsals to warn us on Facebook that it was going to be “flaky.” It wasn’t.
(Yes, I had to ask too. Apparently, he meant that we might encounter a few snowflakes en route.)
It was while riding across that my slow-witted mind finally understood the glaringly obvious reason why my right foot had been soaked and freezing last week, but my left foot had been relatively unscathed – helped in part by a car that flashed past and dumped a sheet of icy water down my right lower leg. Yeah, I know, a bit slow on the uptake.
This slight discomfort aside, I made decent time and was the first to arrive at the meeting point, where a light rain drove me to seek shelter in the bowels of the multi-storey car park.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The worst kept secret in the club is now out and OGL appeared bright and early to “officially” inform us the 2018 British National Road Championships will now be held in the North East, after the proposed host area backed out. These races will be incorporated into the Cyclone Festival of Cycling and will see the best of Britain’s pro road-racers and time-triallists battling it out on the roads of Northumberland.
To accommodate this, the Cyclone Challenge Rides have all been pushed back a week or two to the 30th June. There are rumours that these changes have been made solely to allow Crazy Legs to not only lead a group of club renegades in a raid across various French mountain ranges, but also fully participate in the bigliest, bestest, most beloved and wildly participated in sportive event known to man. These rumours are patently untrue, false, deceitful, scurrilous, fabricated. Fake news.
OGL reported some baffled looks and politically-correct hyperventilating when he’d used a Scottish colloquialism to refer to an opportunity “disappearing faster than snow off a dyke.” It didn’t appeal to our childish humour quite so much as Taffy Steve’s recounting of a chainsaw safety course, where he was told you didn’t have to wear chainsaw boots and could substitute a Kevlar strap-on instead.
Crazy Legs is lamenting the lack of Russian athletes at the Winter Olympics, not because he particularly supports them, or condones state-run doping programmes, but simply because he likes their rather martial national anthem, which makes him want to march in circles around his sofa. When I confessed to being unfamiliar with its precise strains, I was instructed to go away and watch the Hunt for Red October on repeat until I got the hang of it.
Biden Fecht pulled up and asked if anyone had any oil on them. Huh? He then decided whatever mechanical he was suffering from probably couldn’t be fettled with the simple application of lubricant salve and dashed back home to undertake some minor repairs, vowing to meet up later. He hasn’t been seen since.
Aether outlined the route for the day, mainly dictated by the freezing conditions and need to stick to main and treated roads, at least until things warmed up a little. As an alternative, Crazy Legs declared early for another multiple coffee-stop ride, he was naming the Flat White Club Run. He had a sizable number of takers, right from the outset.
Much to OGL’s disbelief, Slow Drinker arrived on Zipp deep section, carbon rims that are probably worth more than my entire bike collection combined. “They’re just his winter training wheels,” G-Dawg remarked dryly.
As we stood there a guy came round to check the bike lockers, mysteriously hidden at the bottom of the car park. Wrestling with a key, he opened the door of each to its widest extent, before sticking his head inside to carefully and thoroughly survey the interior. It was obvious from where we were standing a couple of metres away that the lockers were all empty, but each one was subjected to the same close scrutiny, just in case a teeny-tiney micro-bike, or perfectly camouflaged stealth machine had been left inside.
Aether led for the first few miles, until with a tacit, father and son agreement, G-Dawg and the Colossus surged forward to take up position on the front. And there they would stay, up hill and down dale, an epic turn, impressively and selflessly (or so I thought) leading the line for the next 30km or so.
As we pressed on we seemed to be heading toward random patches of blue sky that grew in size, until even Taffy Steve had to admit my optimism for improving conditions was actually in danger of becoming reality. It was till cold, the roads were still soaked and fields water-logged, but at least the rain had stopped falling on our heads.
A dragging (dragon?) climb had us strung out and then came a shouted warning that there was a wagon behind. A couple of seconds later and there was some almighty bellowing, that told us there was a wagon behind and then, just for good measure, shouting and screaming that there was in fact a wagon behind.
We’d actually taken note at the first warning, but the road was narrow and twisting and there was nothing we could do, short of pulling over and hurling ourselves deep into a hedge. At this point, the repeated shouting became more irritating than useful or informative and we responded with our usual childish humour.
“What was that?” someone shouted back, “There’s a dragon behind?”
“A flagon? There’s a flagon behind?”
“Is it a dragon with a flagon?”
“Ah, does it hold the brew that is true!”
Etc. etc. Well it keep us amused, at least until the dragon, sorry wagon, decided it would be quicker to take an alternate route and turned off at the next junction.
We pushed through to Stamfordham, where our usual layby was inconveniently occupied by a parked car. We were forced into using the wrong layby, although there was surprisingly (disappointingly?) no over the top ranting about the “wrong layby.” Here we split, with Crazy Legs luring a surprising number away with promises of an early hot beverage and some manly discourse in Matfen.
Five of us pushed onward to complete the planned route out to the Reservoir, with G-Dawg and the Colossus still powering away on the front, Ovis and Aether following in the wheels, while I tucked in behind. A bit later, we were caught by the Cow Ranger and Benedict and our numbers temporarily swelled.
I did a brief spell on the front and then, as the road swung north and we started to close in on Matfen, the Cow Ranger and Benedict took to the front and imposed an infernal pace, which they held all the way to the turn off for the Quarry. While our front pair continued on to sweep down the Ryals, the rest of us regrouped, recuperated as much as possible and started to winch our way up the Quarry climb.
We then hung a right at the top and pressed on to the café. Finding ourselves in amongst the local hunt, we had to thread our way between a series of parked up 4×4’s coupled to horse trailers and hunt supporters who lined the roads, hoping for a glimpse of who knows what.
I mentioned to G-Dawg that it seemed a particularly unrewarding and futile spectator sport, standing beside a muddy field in the cold, not knowing if you’re actually going to see anything remotely interesting. Then I realised I was talking to a bloke who travelled to the Stadium of Light last week, to stand in the cold beside a muddy field and watch the Sunderland team trying to win a game of football…
Up ahead, Ovis briefly challenged the Colossus in the sprint before falling back, while I was content to roll in alongside G-Dawg.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
In the café queue, I noticed my bibtights were patterned with a silvery, ghostly patina of salt marks, like permafrost polygons. G-Dawg suggested there’d been so much salt on the roads you could taste it and, while we all agreed too much is infinitely preferable to too little, you had to wonder what damage it was doing to bikes and components.
The Colossus also revealed that the pairs epic turn on the front hadn’t been quite as selfless as I’d assumed and was largely designed to get out of the spray being kicked up by the wheels in front. It would appear that, despite the almost universal deployment of mudguards, not all guards are equal.
Hero of the week was determined to be Tongan taekwondo athlete Pita Taufatofua, who had appeared at the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics wearing little more than a shark tooth necklace and a thin sheen of coconut oil. We had naturally assumed he was on a bobsleigh team, where the trend seems to be for one skilled pilot and three make-weight, short-track sprinters who have to be big, fast and powerful, but perhaps not especially gifted – or, if you’re Jamaican, four big, fast and powerful short-track sprinters who are not especially gifted.
Taufatofua surprised us all though, by qualifying for the cross-country skiing. We couldn’t imagine how, where or when he managed to practice for this in his native, typically tropical Tonga. (He apparently didn’t see snow until he was into his fourth decade on the planet and started out in the sport by strapping planks of wood to his feet and running up and down sand dunes.)
The Matfen Flat White Mob finally materialised and Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve purloined a couple of spare chairs and drew them up to squeeze in around our small table. Then, spotting a group of civilians gathering to leave, they quickly jumped ship, moving to the new, more spacious table and leaving the two chairs tantalisingly and invitingly open.
And then, a double whammy, as the Garrulous Kid shambled across and flumped down on one chair to entertain us with his unique perspective on life, followed a few seconds later by OGL. The latter was already working through story # 32. (I can’t honestly remember which precise tale it was, I’d heard it before and switched off). Meanwhile, across the room I could see a benignly grinning Crazy Legs, comfortably removed and looking on with utter contentment. Bastard.
G-Dawg shared fond memories of the Matfen café the Flat White Mob had stopped at, recalling having turned up there late on a club run as business was winding down for the Christmas holidays. The group of ever-hungry cyclists had been approached by the staff with a massive cake, a handful of forks and what I can only assume was a purely rhetorical question, “Do you think you lot could help us finish this cake? Otherwise we’ll have to throw it away.”
Of the few things that club cyclists are actually good for, cake disposal must be quite high on the list.
The leg home was relatively uneventful until just after Berwick Hill, when we made the turn for Dinnington. There, to everyone’s complete and utter astonishment, the Garrulous Kid actually rode onto the front alongside Benedict, engendering a resounding cheer from our serried ranks behind.
Strangely, a blue moon shone brightly in a sky that remained completely clear of porcine UFO’s, hell refused to freeze over, time ticked on regardless and the Garrulous Kids head did not suddenly explode. Perhaps there’s hope for him (or us) yet.
He took us all the way to the turn-off, where the majority swung away and I took over to lead G-Dawg and Colossus into the Mad Mile. I kept the pace as high as I could manage, not relaxing until they’d jumped away to chase each other home and see who could win first use of the shower.
I dropped to a more sustainable pace and began slowly plotting my own course back.
YTD Totals: 858 km / 533 miles with 9,522 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 89 km / 55 miles with 934 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 5 minutes
Average Speed: 21.7 km/h
Group size: 13 riders, 2 MTB’s
Weather in a word or two: C-c-c-c-cold
Another week, and the North East still seems to be in the icy grip of a nano-femto-yocto Ice Age. Still, I’d kept riding through through the freezing conditions, managing three commutes by bike without any issues. That was until the Friday morning, when I rolled onto the bridge into the University, hit an extended patch of slick ice and came crashing down, right behind an ambling building contractor. He got a shock, jumped, but somehow stayed upright, while I got a brand new hole in my shin and the Pug seemed to take most of the impact on the saddle, which ended up badly deformed with a rail bent inwards.
As Campus Services are usually good at keeping the pathways ice free, I can only assume the bridge had been gritted, but this had been washed away in the rain overnight and then re-frozen. I picked myself up and carefully walked the rest of the way, using the Peugeot as an impromptu Zimmer frame and weaving around lots of unsteady pedestrians, slipping and sliding down the slope toward me and having real trouble with a lack of traction.
Another commuter on a mountain bike came whipping past and I waved for him to slow and warned him he was heading toward dangerous ice. I didn’t hear a bang and crash behind me, so assume he was better at staying upright than me, or dismounted to join the rest of the teetering walkers.
It wasn’t until I was cleaning the bike after the club run that I discovered I also snapped my rear mudguard clean in two, although hopefully my gaffer tape, bodge-job will hold, at least for a while.
Saturday morning promised more of the same, and found me picking my way slowly down the Heinous Hill, steering wide of the icy runnel down the side of the road and hoping the evil glistening of the tarmac was just because the road surface was wet.
The red-glowing LED letters of my digital checkpoint told me it was 8:19 and 0°C as I passed, and I did wonder if it was actually colder than that, but the display couldn’t handle negative temperatures. At one point in our ride Aether reported it was -2°C, so maybe that is the case.
I was right in the bottom of the valley now, down where all the cold air had sunk and ice crept out across the road from either verge. Luckily there was little traffic about and I was able to pick my way carefully down the relatively clear, narrow meridian in the centre of the road.
I arrived at the southern end of the Newburn Bridge just as the traffic lights turned red and, having had one bad experience on an icy bridge already this week and not wanting to hang around getting colder, I dismounted and took to the white and glittering footpath to walk across.
As I passed over the river a coxless-four slid out on the black water under the span, with a rhythmic clack-clack-creak, clack-clack-creak of oars. I never appreciated just how loud those boats are, they always look to be gliding silently and effortlessly along.
On the north side of the river I then got delayed before a long set of roadworks where more resurfacing was going on and got the impression the workmen thought I was slightly mad, but I was on more travelled routes now and the dangers of hidden ice seemed significantly reduced.
Traffic was unusually heavy, perhaps swollen with a mad rush of Christmas shoppers and I had trouble switching into the right hand lane before a busy roundabout. As a result, I had to circumscribe a wide orbit around the outside, but luckily found myself shielded from behind by Mr. Patient, who seemed to instinctively understand where I was trying to go and positioned his car between me and the rest of the traffic.
Onto the side streets, and the final, icy looking roundabout was taken slowly and as upright as possible as I emerged just ahead of G-Dawg and coasted carefully through to the meeting point.
Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point
G-Dawg’s meticulous route-planning input continued, this time advising Aether on the roads that would be officially gritted according to secret, local government insiders and intensive, cyber warfare-style, web-trawling. He really does have too much time on his hands these days.
None of his assurances were quite good enough for OGL though, whose sleeper contacts in the Outer Hebrides had reported danger and unpassable roads everywhere. He had allegedly spent the entire morning fielding dire warnings from “cyclists all over Newcastle” that the roads were lethal and nigh on impassable. And yet … despite declaring we were all doomed, (doomed! I tell ye!) here he was, at the meeting point on time and ready to ride.
With Taffy Steve’s thrice cursed winter-bike still quarantined and locked in either the workshop, or the doghouse (the story varies depending on his mood), he’d arranged a less frenetic ride with Crazy Legs on mountain bikes. This would give him another week to replace his broken freehub, afford Crazy Legs a more civilised re-introduction back into club runs as part of his rehabilitation from a truly nasty chest infection, and it meant they had a little better grip and were slightly more comfortable with the conditions.
This sounded good to G-Dawg, who suggested if any of the lanes looked dodgy we could send the mountain bikes down ahead of everyone else to scout for danger, and avoid the route if they failed to return.
There was some talk of the still missing Prof, who seems to have taken up with a bunch calling themselves the Backstreet Boys, or something similar. I’m not quite sure how working as a tribute act for a dodgy 90’s boy band fits in with his cycling, but apparently (with enough make-up and props, and in the right light) the Prof is a dead ringer for Howie D. and has all the dance moves down pat and everything.
There was only time then for OGL to declare that the “slithering reptile” comment a certain Mrs. Wiggins issued in connection to a four time Tour de France winner had been made in a private, closed group and was not intended for public consumption. To me it’s just another sign of the insidious and dangerous nature of social media, which has so rapidly become a horrendous cess-pit of hate and bile and ignorance. My simple, much too often ignored, golden rules – think before you write, re-read before you post and never, ever post anything you wouldn’t say to someone face-to-face.
(There’s also a newly-minted, club rule that recently surfaced on Facebook and I think is worth adopting: you really should stop posting before reaching the bottom of your first bottle of Merlot.)
Off we trundled then a brave, a foolish, or a bravely-foolish 13, including our two mountain-bikers tucked into the back. They’d later report rolling along with us was pretty straightforward, until we hit an incline and then it became bloody hard work.
I spent the first part of the ride tucked in alongside the Big Yin, who was perhaps the only one relishing the freezing conditions as he had new “extreme conditions” socks and overshoes and wanted a good and proper test for them . We decided that if he counted his toes when he got home and they were all intact, the test had been successful.
The roads weren’t brilliant, but they were comfortably passable with just a little diligence and care, you never actually felt you were teetering on the edge of disaster and there were no incidents.
We rolled past Tranwell Airfield and pulled to a stop before the junction. At this point we discovered our errant mountain bikers had disappeared and someone wondered where along the way we’d lost them. Half-jokingly, I suggested they’d probably turned off at Kirkley Cycles, lured by cake and fresh coffee in the café.
I should have put money on it…
Most of the group showed true grit, and took a right at the junction for a longer loop around, while I tucked in behind OGL and Sneaky Pete as they headed directly for the café, reasoning I’d tempted fate enough for one week.
Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:
Our own extreme weather conditions led to Sneaky Pete discussing English explorer-eccentric Ranulph Fiennes, or to give him his full, glorious title, Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 3rd Baronet, OBE. Apparently made irritable by frostbite he decided to cut off the dead ends of his fingers because they kept getting in the way.
“I tried tentatively to cut through the smallest finger with a new pair of secateurs, but it hurt. So I purchased a set of fretsaw blades at the village shop, put the little finger in my Black & Decker vice and gently sawed through the dead skin and bone just above the live skin line. The moment I felt pain or spotted blood, I moved the saw further into the dead zone. I also turned the finger around several times to cut it from different sides, like sawing a log. This worked well and the little finger’s end knuckle finally dropped off after some two hours of work. Over that week I removed the other three longer fingers, one each day, and finally the thumb, which took two days.” Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know: The Autobiography of Ranulph Fiennes.
Oh my, and we thought Johnny Hoogerland was the epitome of tough!
We were soon joined at the café by our indomitable, errant mountain bikers who, as predicted, had indeed been unable to resist the siren-call allure of the café at Kirkley Cycles. Taffy Steve had thoroughly enjoyed his mountain bike sojourn, and declared he hadn’t had so much fun since the Cyclone he’d completed with the Red Max. This had ostensibly been in support of the Monkey Butler Boy and his wrecking crew, who had thrashed themselves to pieces trying to set a fast time.
While they did this, the older pair combined Red Max’s innate cunning, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the local back roads, to skip around the official course and always stay one step ahead of the youngsters. In this way, they were able to strategically position themselves prominently at the side of the road, conspicuously enjoying cakes, coffees, ice creams and iced cokes, and giving the kids a big thumbs-up each time they sweated and toiled their way past.
With the rest of our group all safely back following their extended loop, talk turned once again to slithey toves and slithering reptiles. The consensus seemed to be that Mr. Froome was bang to rights and looking at a lengthy ban. Interestingly, and apparently in the face of scientific evidence, there wasn’t a single cyclist there who didn’t think a puff of Salbutomol wouldn’t help them breathe deeper and ride faster.
Brandishing his own Ventolin inhaler and offering a pay-as-you-puff scheme, Crazy Legs tried to describe the horrible, scary and debilitating effects of an asthma attack (I haven’t suffered from asthma for about 10 years now, but still recall it’s like trying to breathe through lungs stuffed full of wet cotton wool.)
Talk turned to the odd practice of “scarfing” – Michael Hutchence, Steven Milligan et al, with Crazy Legs seemingly disappointed he’d never experienced any of the supposed stimulating effects of autoerotic asphyxiation – even when suffering a severe asthma attack dressed in nothing but stockings and suspenders, with an orange stuffed in his mouth.
A bunch of us took a slightly longer ride home through Whalton, where I had a chance to catch up with G-Dawg as we pushed along on the front. We agreed Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve may have hit upon a viable alternative to the club ride when conditions were a bit sketchy – a relaxed peregrination around the region’s best loved cycling cafés by mountain bike, although I couldn’t help adding they’d probably earned more java kudos than Strava kudos.
Crazy Legs declared he was going through Ponteland rather than Berwick Hill, hoping to finish the ride at his own pace, but we decided this was probably the safer route all around, so we made him ride with us a little further. Over the River Pont, I then swung away west and started my solo ride home.
Down into the bottom of the Tyne Valley again, I found the mornings roadworks had been completed and slalomed through the traffic cones to ride on the freshly laid, still steaming new tarmac. Luckily my tyres didn’t melt like a road tyre on a turbo, but sadly I also felt no warming benefits from the fresh, just cooling blacktop.
Still, I was now close to home and a very welcome hot shower. It wasn’t the longest of rides, but it got me out, was still enjoyable and, most importantly, everyone got home safely.
YTD Totals: 7,264 km / 4,514 miles with 83,674 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 103 km / 64 miles with 1,319 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 19 minutes
Average Speed:23.6 km/h
Group size:10 riders
Weather in a word or two:Windy
With the clocks being turned back on Saturday evening, this was likely to be my last ride across to the meeting point in the near dark for at least a couple. I intend to enjoy the extra hour of morning daylight while I can, it isn’t going to last.
The clocks going back is also the final sign that we’re slipping inexorably toward winter and the weather is likely to become increasingly discouraging. Rider numbers will slowly decline from now until Spring, depending largely on what each Saturday throws at us on a week by week basis.
Based on numbers across the past three years, typically means the average number out on the club runs from November through to February will be less than 20, while for the rest of the year the average is around 27. November then is end-point for those who hibernate over the winter, endure the hellish purgatory of turbo sessions, or switch sports entirely. All seem to give up the club run as the weather becomes less accommodating. The smallest group I’ve been out with has been confined to a Magnificent 7, hopefully that’s as low as we’ll get, but you just never know what Mother Nature has in store.
The declining number of riders were likely to be especially problematic this week, as the “Usual Suspects” – those who can be relied on to turn up in most weathers, were already seriously depleted – the Red Max was enjoying riding in what looked like a beautifully warm Spain, Taffy Steve was off on a visit to the Isle of Man, while Crazy Legs, G-Dawg and the Colossus had taken Rab Dee off toward Kielder on one of their occasional mountain bike forays. I guessed it was going to be a much diminished ride today.
To compound the issue, the wind was strong and gusting and it would be a real grind to push through, with plenty of sudden, capricious gusts and crosswinds demanding a little more care and concentration.
Not only was I expecting a smaller, quieter club run today, but in fact everywhere seemed quiet early in the morning as I set off. The traffic was relatively light and as I crossed the bridge, the oily, black and surprisingly still river was, for once, completely empty of boats and rowers, both upstream and down.
Climbing out of the valley on the other side, a massive stretch of the road surface appeared to have been combed, stripped of its surface tarmac and left coarse and corrugated. Hopefully this will eventually result in a nice, new piece of shiny smooth tarmac, but for now it meant a juddering, jarring, bone-shaking climb.
I knew the 4ZA wheel hubs on the Peugeot desperately need a service, but my LBS is having difficulty sourcing the parts from Ridley. Surprisingly, the hubs haven’t miraculously sorted themselves out through constant riding and the rumbling and shaking on this stretch of “not-road” convinced me to bite the bullet and swap the wheels out for some cheap alternatives I’d bought last week.
The last section of my run in to the meeting place was not only blissfully smooth by comparison, but all downhill, in a straight line and with the wind at my back. Even better, for the first time every traffic light in a series of four or five was burning a solid green for me and I whipped through them non-stop and was soon at the meeting point.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The Rainman, our younger, better-looking, Dutch substitute for the now departed De Uitheems Bloem, was the only one waiting, having just finished his night-shift and deciding the ideal way to relax was with a bike ride into a gale force wind!
After a freezing commute on Friday morning I’d seriously over-estimated how much cold weather gear I needed and the first order of the day on stopping was to strip off glove liners, buff and gilet. Sadly, neither the Rainman or I could do anything much with the thermal base-layers we’d both ill-advisedly chosen.
The Prof rolled up and told us it was windy out on the roads. He’d devised a route for what has become known as “the training ride” – a slightly longer, possibly faster first group that leaves independently of the main club run, but meets up at the café for the ride back. Although the title “training ride” has generated a certain amount of derision in some quarters, whether the name is appropriate or not, doesn’t really matter – it gives us more choice.
I was actually tempted to join the Prof’s early ride this time out, but figured that with key stalwarts missing, the club run could be out-gunned and under-manned in the wind and we’d need as many as possible to share the workload today.
Caracol and Mr. Boom arrived next and told us it was windy out on the roads. The Prof had a cunning plan to find shelter, which he demonstrated by squatting down behind Caracol’s back wheel. Sadly for him, his plan never reached fruition as Caracol too decided he would be doing the normal club ride.
Four intrepid “trainee’s” then slipped away early on their ride, as Princess Fiona rolled up to tell us it was windy out on the roads.
OGL arrived to tell us it was windy and we had another short requiem for all the local bike shops slipping out of business.
We even waited an additional five minutes before leaving, but as expected, numbers were down to a meagre 10 lads and lasses as we pushed off, clipped in and rolled out. Caracol led the way and had just barely dropped his front wheel off the kerb before he was being lambasted for riding too fast!
“That might be a new club record for the fastest telling off, ever” he declared.
I wasn’t so sure, as I seem to recall the Red Max receiving a similar condemnatory diatribe even as he made to swing a leg over his stationary bike.
I joined Caracol on the front and we battered and battled together against the wind for the first 30km or so, chatting whenever it dropped enough so our ears weren’t overwhelmed by its rushing thrum. In this piecemeal way we discussed, among other things, who would win a stubbornness contest between OGL and Sean Kelly’s bad-tempered Irish donkey and just how long you could defer domestic chores by riding a bike. (Hint: there is no escape and they always come back to bite you on the bum.)
I also found I had a disturbing and distracting gap between boot top and leggings that was becoming naggingly chilled, otherwise our progress was quite pleasant despite the conditions and certainly not too cold, although I did have a shaky moment when swerving around a car on a narrow bridge and feeling my rear wheel sliding out on the mud and leaves at the side of the road.
We stopped at Stamfordham to reassess and plot a new course and Ovis and Biden Fecht took over on the front for the next stretch.
I’d dropped back and was chatting to Princess Fiona as we made our way toward the Quarry Climb. She felt we were going to get the benefit of a tailwind, but remembering how much the approach zigs and zags and just how exposed the landscape was around there, I wasn’t so sure.
Either side of us and a fusillade of shots boomed out. We’d either found a Northumberland shooting party, or the wind had blown us right off course and we were heading toward Raqqa. I finally spotted the ragged line of shotgun toting “sportsmen” and their beaters, but for the life of me couldn’t see what they were blazing away at. Thankfully Caracol, whose eyes are obviously much sharper and younger than mine assured me there were birds in the air (or being blown out of the air) and this wasn’t a vigilante-toff, anti-cycling protest. Relieved there was no need to dive into the nearest ditch, we pressed on.
Slim Michael and Caracol took to the front as we climbed around the first corner and with the wind temporarily at our backs, they started to build the pace. A surprisingly struggling and gasping Zardoz somehow managed to wheeze out a desultory, enfeebled “somebody say something” plea, just before his prayers were answered and OGL issued a stern, “Easy!” directive.
It wasn’t to be though, the boys up front decided it was time to stretch their legs – and off they romped.
Up front, Slim Michael, Ovis, Caracol and Biden Fecht topped the climb and swung left. I eased up after them and then pulled over to wait for the stragglers. Zardoz followed me up and then slipped off to the right, taking the shorter route to the café, while Mini Miss and Princess Fiona turned left without pause.
A while later and a good distance back, OGL finally hove into sight, honking up the climb in a massive gear as usual. “I’m getting to old for this,” he declared, rounding the corner, “I might have to swap out the 26 on the back for a 28.”
Well, if recognition is the first step toward self-awareness, progress of sorts. And in other news, dinosaurs were found to be roaming free and still very much alive in the wilds of Northumberland, while pigs were seen taking to the air (but were sadly gunned down before they could make good their escape).
I dropped in front of OGL and pushed on up the slope toward the junction, where I found the rest of the group had actually stopped and were waiting.
We pressed on toward the café, managing to stay together until the road dipped down and around a sweeping bend. Using this as a springboard, Slim Michael and Ovis charged away and I gave chase, dragging Caracol across the gap.
Down toward a junction and negotiating a sharp right turn, we now had the wind at our backs for the final run in and would be difficult to catch. Biden Fecht confirmed this as he worked hard to try and close the gap, but eventually ran out of road.
Meanwhile Caracol and Slim Michael whirred away off the front, Ovis did a quick calculation and determined he couldn’t live with their pace, so wisely didn’t try. He throttled back just a little and I was happy to cling to his wheel as we pushed on. Ovis kept glancing back, waiting for the sly beggar on his wheel to come around and mug him at the last, but even if I’d wanted to I’m not sure I could have out-sprinted him, so just sat in and let him drag me down to the Snake Bends.
I caught up with Zardoz at the junction with the main road and we ducked down the lane to avoid the main drag and its speeding traffic. Between slaloming around a shocking number of potholes, he confessed he’d been really struggling today and felt having just a couple of weeks off the bike had seen his form almost instantly evaporate.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
I was just about to upbraid the café for their unseasonable and ridiculously premature Christmas cake, when I noticed the spider and cobweb-decorated cupcakes and realised the figures on the supposed “Christmas” scene were actually meant to be scary ghosts and not fat, jolly snowmen.
Mini Miss rightly contended the crosswinds on the Quarry Climb were nowhere near as bad as those we always seem to find we we take the route up through Angerton, which is exposed and seemingly always windy, even on the calmest of days. It’s always a forceful headwind too – even on the one day we reversed our route and travelled down instead of up its length. How does that work then?
At the table, Caracol remembered the lump of flapjack he’d been hauling around in his back pocket and added that to his energy intake. I wondered if it was home-made and could rival Rab Dee’s recipe. I suspect he uses iron filings and a heavy duty engineers vice to craft something so dense it has its own gravitational field and can bend light. If offered any, I usually politely decline, as I’m sure even the smallest nibble would instantly add two or three kilos. Perhaps though, additional ballast would be good on a day like today.
Caracol took me to task for suggesting Rab Dee would ever sink so low as to use iron filings and he believed the secret ingredient was likely to be more high-tech and possibly titanium.
Unwittingly, Ovis may then have revealed the real reason for his sudden upsurge in fitness and form. He’s been deflecting attention from this by suggesting it’s a result of repeated hill intervals he’s doing through a dodgy area of town (with the extra incentive that he daren’t stop in case his bike gets nicked). Now, he admitted to carrying an entire malt loaf on all his rides, as it’s easily compressed into a solid brick of gooey-goodness. I’m beginning to suspect his new-found strength is fuelled entirely by Soreen and expect it to make the WADA list of banned substances very shortly.
Talking about plans for next year, Ovis has entered the lottery for a place on the Fred Whitton Challenge and suspects the Wooler Wheel, Lakeland Loop and Cyclone are likely to be on his inventory too.
Even more impressive than the Fred Whitton, Ovis mentioned that Princess Fiona’s plans include a first participation in the Barcelona Iron Man Event (Iron Woman? Iron Princess?)
Caracol, Ovis, Slim Michael and Biden Fecht hatched a plan to take a longer route back and I tagged along, although it seemed horribly counter-intuitive to leave the café and turn back into the headwind.
After the first few hills I realised my legs were totally shot and the pace they were setting up front wasn’t sustainable. As we hit Whalton and they took a course heading further north-east, when I needed to be travelling south-west, I baled and started to plug my way homeward, battling the wind on my own terms but, more importantly at my own pace.
The roads still remained relatively quiet and the only accompaniment I had was a grey squirrel darting in front of my wheel as I trekked through Ponteland and the whirling leaves, that scuttered and skittered across the road around me, rats’ feet over broken glass, in our dry cellar … or something like that, anyway.
On the last leg and pushing up Heinous Hill, I found the wind to be an ally at the last, funnelled between the buildings and onto my back, giving me a forceful nudge up the slope. Then it was back to battling head first into its seemingly strengthening force, as I traversed along the hills crest, before the final steep ramp upwards and finally home.
YTD Totals: 6,386 km / 3,957 miles with 73,042 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 122 km / 76 miles with 1,142 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 47 minutes
Average Speed:25.5 km/h
Group size:24 riders, 2 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two:Tom Verlaine (Warm and Cool)
A dry looking Saturday, but grey and dull with light rain showers forecast, but not until around midday. I’d managed to survive a semi-debauched work leaving do involving “jalee-peeno” chilli peppers and “crotch mints” on Friday night (I couldn’t tell you, even if I knew…) and was looking forward to blowing the fuzz away with a bracing gentleman’s excursion by velocipede.
The dodgy knee was well-strapped up in an attempt to try and keep everything in place and I’d dug out some knee warmers to disguise the shocking pink bandage. I even remembered my long-fingered gloves, so was well wrapped up and warm dropping down the hill to start my ride.
The leaden, uniform cloud cover was fractured by only a single band of pale, glittering blue-sky, far away across the other side of the valley. It was exactly where I was heading and seemed like a good omen.
We were set for one of G-Dawg’s carefully prepared, somewhat alternative rides and he’d obviously been scouring ordnance survey maps, ancient parish records, local archives and the latest military-grade, topographical satellite imagery to find us a route somewhat less-travelled. The ride had been posted up on Facebook and looked like being not only novel, but slightly longer than usual. It was going to be a good one.
It seemed to be a day for fellow cyclists to be out on the roads in force – perhaps the forecast for rain later in the day had encouraged them to leave home early, or maybe they too needed to work off the previous night’s excesses.
I passed one group clustered just outside Pedalling Squares cycle café and hoped they didn’t need an espresso to kick-start their ride – the place was still an hour away from opening. I waved past another couple heading east and a third group tracked me along the valley floor for a while, but either turned off, or got caught behind some lights, so never caught up for a chat.
After last week’s flotilla of single sculls, there was only a solitary eight out on the river, leading me to idly speculate that rowing isn’t really as popular as it seems. Perhaps this eight was manned by the exact same rowers as last week’s sculls and they just changed boats occasionally to spice things up. If next week they’re back to 8-singles, or possibly 4-doubles, I think I might be onto something.
The knee got its first test as I climbed out the other side of the valley, but the strapping seemed to be doing its work, it wasn’t exactly 100% but I could live with a few small twinges. Interestingly it seemed less sore when climbing standing up and out of the saddle.
The first test passed, I was soon homing in on the meeting point, arriving in good time and in good order.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:
G-Dawg had bedecked himself in the brightest, most luminous, acid-orange socks I’d ever seen, perhaps so he was especially prominent as ride leader and to ensure no one got lost – the cycling equivalent of Rudolph’s red-nose? Taffy Steve later remarked he thought G-Dawg had installed a special two-tone gold chain with orange highlights, until he realised he was just seeing the glow of the glaringly orange socks reflected in the chains highly burnished plates.
The Garrulous Kid declared OGL had promised to show him the “secret way.” Yes, well … ahem … hmmm … moving swiftly on.
Crazy Legs was wearing a jersey I donated to him as it was too long in the body for me and I felt it was the perfect complement to his much cossetted Ribble. The colours were not only the exact shade of red, black and white to match the Ribble’s frame, but featured in almost identical proportions too. So, naturally he’d decided to wear it while riding his celeste Bianchi …
(He did actually explain that he fully intended to ride the much cossetted Ribble today, but it had refused, point-blank to leave the warm, dry sanctuary of its hyperbaric chamber, asserting there was just the faintest trace of moisture in the air and a more than 2.5% chance of rain.)
Jimmy Mac returned from participating in the UCI Gran Fondo event, where he’d lined up in Albi with 2,939 other riders from 56 different nations, including at least one Dutchman, our own de Uitheems Bloem. The latter has now left this royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle, this earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, this other Eden, demi-paradise, in order to return to his homeland of polders and dykes. Veel success, Thomas, we’ll miss you.
Jimmy Mac had survived the Gran Fondo which, in his estimation had not only been blisteringly fast, but blisteringly hot too. Once again and much like the Etape du Tour, the event organisation seemed to have thoroughly let the riders down though and he reported the en route feed stations had run out of water long before he got to them.
G-Dawg outlined the route, OGL emphasised there was only one cut-off point for anyone wanting a shorter ride and we split more or less (we’re learning) into two equal groups with Crazy Legs leading the first and G-Dawg the second.
We pushed off, clipped in and rode out…
On the road with the first group, I started chatting with Taffy Steve and was taken to task for not acknowledging his most invaluable contributions in the engine room of last week’s gimp express, as we tried unsuccessfully to rein in the rampaging Zardoz and the only slightly-less rampaging Big Dunc.
Suitably chastened, talk turned to the “classic” bloke-films that Taffy Steve is ensuring his son has an encyclopaedic and deep, empathic understanding of, before the boy is cast, adrift and defenceless, into a world full of rom-cons, chick-flicks, historical dramas, much-too earnest bio-pics, classical literature screen-adaptations and other such horrors.
Point Break, the original 1960’s Batman and the Matrix films had already been covered off, while we discussed the relative merits of Die Hard, Predator and the Lethal Weapon series, with a special nod to Clint Eastwood, a few spaghetti-westerns and of course Where Eagles Dare.
Never mind the implausibility, the occasionally ropey special effects, the scripts full of anachronisms and “more holes than a horse trader’s mule” – just sit back and enjoy the visceral excitement. How good must it be to discover these films for the first time?
Once Crazy Legs had rotated off the front we had a remarkably rare sighting of a couple of Grogs leading us and their efforts dragged us to the top of the valley before the plunge down into Wylam.
It was here that OGL would lead off a splinter group for those seeking a slightly shorter ride, seemingly taking most of the Grogs with him along with the Garrulous Kid, who continues to take the easy option and might need to be renamed the Wimpy Kid.
It was also at this point that OGL’s “secret route” was revealed … apparently a different, safer way we could take down into the Tyne Valley. The only trouble was it was only accessible if we travelled a mile or two in the wrong direction down the Military Road.
I must admit I don’t quite understand his concern – the descent into Wylam is fast, but the road’s wide, the bends are all gently sweeping and the traffic relatively light. We usually get strung out going down, but soon regroup at the bottom for the ride along the river side.
Anyway, as Crazy Legs reasoned, it would still be far better to deal with the descent, even if it was gnarly, rather than spend any more time than absolutely necessary dicing with the reckless, impatient, and frequently speeding drivers on the Military Road “race-track.”
So, down we went and I tucked up and dropped in behind Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs, letting gravity do the work as we hit over 40 mph. As always, great fun.
Along the valley floor and a black cat darted across the road in front of us, the bell on its collar jingling lightly, but clearly loud enough for Crazy Legs to suggest it was nearly as good as cow bells on an Alpine climb. Once safely on the pavement the cat stopped to eye us up suspiciously, making sure we kept right on going.
At the Bywell Bridge, now fully open to anyone brave enough to venture into the dark and brooding lands south of the river, we stopped to merge with the following group led by G-Dawg. All together we then swung away to the right and starting the long climb back out of the valley.
I topped the hill before the A69 dual carriageway just off the front group and with perfect timing, as a gap miraculously appeared in the rushing traffic. I picked my way across to the other side without stopping and pulled up to ensure everyone was across before continuing to climb upwards.
We were now traversing the side of the hill, travelling slightly eastwards, rather than heading straight up and as the road continued to climb I started working my way through the back markers. Szell, Sneaky Pete, Aether and Brink in particular didn’t seem to be enjoying the uphill segments and I slipped past them as the road continued upwards.
We stopped to regroup and pressed on through more climbing – and then hit the rinse and repeat button, more climbing and more regrouping. Somewhere along the way I lost track of Szell and was convinced he was tailed-off and riding behind the group.
I communicated my concern to Rab Dee, our backmarker, sweeper-up and self-appointed guardian of waifs and strays and we spent an age soft-pedalling and peering backwards, hoping to see a struggling Szell finally haul himself into view. There was nothing.
We stopped and waited, finally surmising Szell may have taken a different route, before reluctantly pushing on again. At the junction Aether and Radman had waited for us, but the rest of the group had kept going.
We then had a mile or so chasing into the wind, before catching up to the rest of the group who were waiting at the next junction and insisted Szell was in a group up ahead! They still had trouble convincing me he wasn’t lost, alone and palely loitering, though.
At this point it became apparent we’d now lost Rab Dee too and Aether back-tracked to find he was having problems with his front shifter. Rab finally re-joined, but only long enough to let us know he was stuck in the inner ring and cutting short his ride to head homeward.
We now took one of G-Dawg’s “paths less-travelled” – turning off the main roads onto a rutted and pitted farm track that narrowed to the point where I was becoming concerned it was going to peter out altogether and abandon us in the middle of a field.
There were a few pots to avoid, lumps to slalom round and gravel to surf through, but we kept going and G-Dawg’s plan didn’t fail us.
With a noise like a Winchester ricochet in a cheesy Western, a wheel ahead spat up a small boulder which flew with unerring accuracy to rap Taffy Steve across the knuckles.
“Ouch!” he exclaimed, before quickly realising he had to translate his hurt into the local Geordie vernacular, or nobody would have a clue about what had happened…
“Ai-ya, that knaacks!” he quickly corrected himself.
Finally, we emerged from the wilderness onto more civilised roads, with everyone seeming to instantly recognise where they were. Well, everyone except me.
“This is part of the route the Cyclone takes,” Taffy Steve informed me.
“Maybe, but at this stage, after the Ryals, I’m usually reduced to an exhausted wreck with tunnel-vision and can only ride with my head bowed down. I don’t recognise anything.”
“How long have you lived in Newcastle?” Taffy Steve asked in disbelief.
“I don’t live in Newcastle,” I protested.
“Hmm, must just be because you work there that you’ve developed that thin veneer of civility.”
“Kee-argh!” Zardoz announced, at the sound of a motor-vehicle approaching from behind.
His exaggerated Scouse bleat still sounded like my cat retching up a fur-ball.
I tried to copy this most extraordinary noise, but succeeded only in sounding like a mildly startled crow. Embarrassingly, it was as pitiful as Ed Miliband’s death metal scream as he tried to imitate Napalm Death frontman, Barney Greenway.
“You need lessons,” Zardoz declared phlegmatically.
He wasn’t wrong.
Radman and Crazy Legs took to the front for the last push through Stamfordham and I finally recognised where we were. They swung us left and up the hill, as we started a last push on to the café.
Above us massive wind-turbines whirred freely and we quickly came to understand just why they’d been placed where they were, as out of nowhere, the stretch of road suddenly became a perfect, natural wind-tunnel, funnelling a vicious headwind straight into our faces.
Radman and Crazy Legs drove us through this gale and onto the junction leading down to the Snake Bends where, as suddenly as the wind had sprang up, it died away again.
There was no full-blooded sprint, just a general quickening of the pace and I was able to stay comfortably in line despite discovering I’d been riding on the inner ring.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
I was somewhat relieved to discover Szell comfortably ensconced in the café when we arrived, supping his tea and devouring a warm scone. I guess he was in the group up the road after all, but I’m still confused as to when and where (and how?) he passed me on the climb.
We sat outside into the garden after being served, where the owner-proprietor of Azione bikes passed by and stopped for a brief chat. Azione must be the only people producing custom-made, bespoke carbon bikes in Newcastle (Azione.cc).
A couple of our crew are “Azionista’s” – one is very, very enthusiastic about the project, the other a little more circumspect. Very nice designs, but a bit too rich for my blood – which I guess is just another way of admitting I’m a cheapskate – or, as tight as a wallaby’s sphincter, as some of my more erudite friends might suggest.
I think Jimmy Mac got the full sales pitch, but refreshingly, unlike a similar encounter with the MD of the Storck UK, at least the Azione guy wasn’t trying to spin us a tale about his frames being anything other than high-end and unashamedly expensive, premium bikes.
The Garrulous Kid unwisely started guessing peoples ages, straddling the line between fawning sycophantism and uncomfortable, derogatory and disparaging disrespect. Luckily Taffy Steve cut him short before he really insulted someone.
Radman stated how much he’d enjoyed the ride and how it made a change from the shorter route he usually takes with the Grogs and we all agreed it had been a great one today. He wasn’t a fan of the coffee at the café though and we couldn’t persuade him to have a second cup, even after Crazy Legs had press-ganged the Garrulous Kid into collecting our refills – more for a moments respite than any laziness on our part.
Radman revealed the Grogs always met up early for a pre-ride espresso, which sounds very civilised and means they can time their arrival for after any OGL proselytizing – so not only civilised, but sensible too.
In the car park as we were leaving, I was approached by a couple enquiring which club we were from. Despite wondering if they were going to report us to the Police for unknown misdemeanours, I answered truthfully – the garish club jerseys were well represented anyway and they’re all emblazoned with the club name, so there wasn’t much wriggle-room.
Apparently though, the couple were cyclists from Lincoln (Lincoln Wheelers, I think) who were just returning from a walking event in Peebles and were admiring all the bikes. They seemed rather jealous that we had such a glorious day for a ride, while they still had a couple of hours drive ahead of them.
As we set off for home I dropped in behind Sneaky Pete and heard all about his potential 15 minutes of fame, as he’d been filmed for the new BBC One series, How to Stay Young, due to air on Wednesday, 13th September at 21.00.
Answering the call for retired gentlemen of a certain vintage, Sneaky Pete had to endure a battery of tests at the hands of no less than the fearsome Angela Ripon, before our mountain climbing and cycling superhero was declared an uber-healthy pensioner, with less than 6% body-fat and the physique of a 35-year-old Adonis.
We’ve yet to see if Sneaky Pete’s segment survives the cut, or is expunged for making the rest of us feel old, unworthy and inadequate.
Sneaky Pete, however is apparently not everyone’s flavour of the month. While I was away on holiday he’d found his picture appearing unsolicited on a social-media site, where he was accused, in terms that would make a sailor blush, of being a reckless cyclist who casually and disdainfully flouts the rules of the road.
Apparently Sneaky Pete and colleagues had been out on the usual Saturday club run and had somehow – and he has genuinely no idea how, or why – incurred the wrath of the driver of a black Mercedes. This woman had photographed him on her mobile and posted up the picture along with the derogatory remarks and had, apparently without the slightest hint of self-awareness or irony, accused him of breaking the law.
Just to be absolutely clear: The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No 4) Regulations 2003, prohibits a person from driving a motor vehicle on a road if the driver is using a held-hand mobile telephone or a hand-held device. Regulation 110 (6)(c) provides a non-exhaustive list of “interactive communication functions” which are subject to this restriction, including: sending or receiving oral or written messages, sending or receiving facsimile documents, sending or receiving still or moving images, and providing access to the internet.
Contrary to what many drivers seem to think, the law still applies even if you’re stopped, or queuing in traffic – as the RAC conclude, “if your engine is running, your phone should be nowhere near your hands or eye line.”
Still, it’s good to know so many drivers have such a vested interest in ensuring people strictly adhere to the rules of the road …
It wasn’t long before I was swinging off and heading for home, enduring the lightest and briefest of rain showers that did nothing to dampen the mood or ruin the day. The knee held up quite well and only really hurt a couple of miles from home, when I needed to sprint through a small gap in the traffic at a busy roundabout.
Hopefully all on the road to recovery then.
YTD Totals: 5,409 km / 3,360 miles with 61,650 metres of climbing