Moist Phalanges and a Finely Turned Ankle

Moist Phalanges and a Finely Turned Ankle

Club Run, Saturday 27th January, 2018  

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance                                   115 km / 72 miles with 1,068 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 54 minutes

Average Speed:                                 23.5 km/h

Group size:                                         25 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    10°C

Weather in a word or two:          Tepid


mphal
Ride Profile

Saturday was set for to be a remarkably mild, late January day and, as soon as I levelled out after rolling down the hill, I realised I’d probably got the clothing choices wrong. Again.

It was already 7°C and while I wasn’t convinced we’d eke that much more warmth out of a pale sun, that would stay largely muffled behind a thick pall of cloud, temperatures were only ever likely to rise. Meanwhile, although the clouds threatened the occasional rain shower, they never quite delivered.

Ultimately, a winter jacket, long-sleeved baselayer and thick gloves would prove too much, even though I’d discarded the headband and buff to let a little cool air circulate. Caught out once again by the eccentric vicissitudes of the Great British weather.

The rowing club looked to be gearing up for another big event as I swung past, the car parks already full and marshals bustling around organising everything. The tide was most definitely out as I crossed over the river though, wide mud banks exposed to either side and only a thin channel of murky water midstream. I guessed they wouldn’t be starting anytime soon.

Things were whirring along nicely, both my legs and bike behaving and it wasn’t long before I was pulling up at the meeting point, to see what another club run would bring.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

One of the first to arrive was the Red Max, back after a long absence, which, according to him, was spent diligently and cheerfully answering each and every whim, no matter how trivial, or spurious, of a seriously incapacitated and post-operative Mrs. Max.

Or, at least that’s the official version and what he told me to write. If pressed, I would have to note the uncertain emergence of other words and phrases in his narrative, such as harridan, nagging, living-hell, demanding and personal anguish.

Not only was the Red Max back, but he was accompanied by the Monkey Butler Boy, whose trying to step-up to some big-time races this season. Because of this, he’s decided his usual Saturday jaunts, out with the youthful ingrates of the Wrecking Crew, are too short, lackadaisical and not demanding enough. They must be a truly soft option if the alternative is riding out with a bunch of auld gits like us…

OGL announced he’s abrogated all responsibility for organising the clubs annual overseas trip as there are now too many, privately arranged and alternative, unsanctioned, unofficial and competing, “other trips.” Similarly, he’s suggesting that he’s voluntarily disconnecting from Facebook as his edicts aren’t always met with immediate, universal approval and compliance. At the same time though, he seems to be voluntarily disconnecting others from Facebook as well. I assume this is a purge to remove any dissenting voices from the posts he no longer reads, or responds to?

Strange times.

Earlier in the week, the Garrulous Kid had spotted the Colossus, encased in headphones and indulging in some syncopated strolling, interspersed with strident moonwalking, as he bopped along the High Street.

“Just how long have you had those really ancient headphones?” the Garrulous Kid demanded to know.

“Oh, about 18 hours,” the Colossus replied nonchalantly, before describing his state of the art, best in class, audiophile’s dream, brand new, Sennheiser headphones.

I expressed great surprise that, despite all his banging on about German manufacturing excellence in relation to his Focus bike (#cough# made in Taiwan #cough#)) the Garrulous Kid didn’t actually recognise quality, Teutonic design and engineering when directly confronted with it.

The Colossus was in turn, surprised anyone recognized him in civvies, although maybe he shouldn’t have been, as he then related how Crazy Legs had once ridden past when he was walking along, instantly recognised him from behind and shouted out a greeting. I suggested this was because, for Crazy Legs and us mere mortals, this was the view we most often saw, camped out on the Colossus’s rear wheel, staring fixedly at the back of his head and hanging on for dear life.

Just outside the office block behind us, a random generator spluttered and then banged into life with a long, hacking cough. It then belched loudly and disgorged an explosive, rumbling fart, accompanied by a huge cloud of noxious, greasy, black smoke.

“I think the cleaner’s just plugged her vacuum into the wrong socket.” G-Dawg surmised.

As the dangerous looking fumes threatened to engulf us, it looked like the perfect time to evacuate the area and a sizeable group of 24 of us hurriedly pushed off, clipped in and fled the scene.


I started out riding alongside self-declared scientific genius, the Garrulous Kid. (I’m really looking forward to the day he also describes himself as like, really stable too). Apparently his faith in the superiority of German engineering had been badly shaken when he realised just how utterly useless the family BMW was in the snow last week. It’s obvious now why he’s been spending so much time in the gym, it’s for when he’s called upon to lend manual assistance to his Dad’s lumbering panzerwagen, you know, when a 2.5 litre engine and 240 brake horsepower just isn’t enough.

A shuffling of the pack and I caught up with Ovis, having recently “won” the lottery for inclusion in the Fred Whitton Challenge and not quite sure about what he’s let himself in for. Still, I’m sure he’ll be fine … as long as he manages to avoid the livestock.

Approaching the Military Road and we found ourselves being stalked by an aerial drone that hovered in a field parallel our route. Perhaps it was industrial espionage on behalf of our regular café, having heard of our dastardly defection last week and wanting to keep tabs on customers wandering off to the competitors?

Perhaps GrCHQ SIGINT Division had been monitoring our social media communications and uncovered disturbing levels of insurgency amongst the clubs Saturday morning irregulars, something so disturbing that it required extreme surveillance measures?

Ah, no. It was just a couple of harmless mountain-bikers having fun with a new toy.

Or, at least they looked like harmless mountain-bikers …

Past the reservoir and we stopped to split the group, with OGL, the Red Max and a handful of others choosing a slightly shorter, somewhat less hilly way to the café, while the rest of us went via roads that G-Dawg noted we hadn’t travelled down for a good couple of months.

As we waited to reconvene and ride on, the Hammer sidled across to tell me how much he admired my “pretty and delicately exposed ankles.” Damn, I knew those Diadora winter boots needed to be longer and more concealing, and not just for added protection in extreme weather. I can’t go round enflaming the passions of my fellow cyclists with such wanton displays.

Having returned from the strange delirium of his inappropriate, homoerotic interlude, the Hammer apologised and suggested it was a simple fugue state, induced by not being out on his bike in ever such a long a time – in fact, probably not since we last ventured down these very roads.

He rightfully complained that for us more … ah, shall we say mature, members of the cycling fraternity, form is difficult to attain, impossible to sustain and slips quickly away with a moments inaction and inattention. Nevertheless, having recovered himself, the Hammer was looking forward to the recuperative effects of a hot, invigorating beverage, a modest slice of seed-cake and some sustained gentlemanly banter in the café.

On we pressed, through a series of dragging climbs where I became aware just how tired and heavy-legged I was. To cap it all, we were now hitting exposed areas where a strong headwind seemed to have sprung up and was proving troublesome.

We turned up one lane, swooped down into a valley and started the climb back out, only to notice we were approaching large red road signs and a series of traffic cone barricades.

“Hope the road’s not closed,” G-Dawg muttered as we slowly approached.

The signs did indeed warn: “Road Closed” though luckily not to the degree that would deter your average, intrepid (read: desperate not to turn back and add on more miles) scofflaw roadie.

We insouciantly swished past the Road Closed signs, slalomed freely around the traffic cones and then wondered what all the warnings where about. The road was intact, unmarred and highly passable – although apparently scheduled for some BT cable laying, sometime this millennium, or maybe next.


 

Moment


We pushed on, through small, scattered hamlets, everyone strung out and working hard, before swinging onto the road up to the Quarry Climb and, for a while at least, out of the wind. There we found OGL, all on his lonesome and working to replace a punctured tube.

We wondered what had happened to the Red Max and others who’d been accompanying OGL on the shorter run. The Monkey Butler Boy surmised (and lo! it was so) that the Red Max had attacked wholeheartedly as soon as he sensed someone having a mechanical and had long since disappeared up the road.

We lent what assistance we could to OGL, who’d fallen foul of one of Northumberlands steel-tipped, mutant thorns, which I’m reliably informed were the inspiration behind the Fairburn-Sykes Fighting knife. He was pretty much finished the repairs, so the wait wasn’t long and we were soon on the move again.

I held on up the Quarry Climb and as we pushed through onto the road to the Snake Bends. Then the Colossus went for a long-range attack. The group split in pursuit, but I quickly recognised it was futile. He was long gone, there was no chance of getting back on terms, even if I had the legs for it (I knew for a fact I didn’t). I pulled over, slowed and watched as a long stream of riders zipped past and away.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

“Is this your first ride of the year?” the Garrulous Kid enquired of Biden Fecht as we sat down in the cafe.

“No, I was out last week,” Biden Fecht confirmed.

“But, but … it was snowing and icy last week!” an incredulous Garrulous Kid exclaimed.

“Ah, thanks for telling me. I didn’t realise…”

Biden Fecht was then closely interrogated about his work as a lecturer at Aberdeen University, with the Garrulous Kid suggesting he might apply there and wondering if perhaps Biden Fecht had a spare room going free?

I’ve never seen anyone’s face drain of blood quite so quickly.

We learned that the Monkey Butler Boy’s Samsung phone occasionally syncs with the family Samsung widescreen in the lounge, where the display cuts in to show whatever he’s browsing for on the Internet, something which could lead to embarrassing consequences for a young lad with healthy appetites and an insatiable curiosity.

In fact, he’s already been caught red-handed, cruising for bike porn …

“The Taiwan Bike Show,” he reluctantly confirmed.

“Ooph, you like them exotic,” I suggested, “Slender seat stays, fully curved drop-outs?”

“Bars you can grab a big old handful of,” Rab Dee affirmed. Dangerous, salacious stuff.

Meanwhile the real scandal was with the Garrulous Kid, who was in denial about by his unrequited affections for a red-haired, Upper Sixth Former. An older woman? He seemed baffled by the Red Max’s casual mention of MILFs and PILFs, which he decided to Google on his “Apple phone.”

Having scrolled past the Public Interest Legal Foundation to something a little less salubrious and worthy, he quickly shut down his browser, turned off his phone and dropped it, as if it had just given him an electric shock. I couldn’t help but imagine his unrestricted browsing activities setting of all sorts of alarms and klaxons at home and the disapproving family committee that might be awaiting him on his return.

The Monkey Butler Boy tried to describe the definition of a Mackem he’d found in the Urban Dictionary, but became so convulsed with laughter he was too incapacitated to finish.


Out we went and I did a brief spell on the front with G-Dawg. At one point there was a loud squeal of disk brakes from behind, sounding like a discordant, slightly off-key, rendition of Jesus Christ, Superstar played by a dyspeptic and slightly drunk, brass band.

“Ah, I see Rab Dee is still with us,” G-Dawg concluded.

Up Berwick Hill and I slowly drifted back through the wheels. We charged through Dinnington and then the main group were turning off. The pace then accelerated down the Mad Mile and I was cast adrift, to plug my way home.

At the first opportunity, I stopped to unzip the jacket and take off my gloves – I was overheating and the insides of the gloves were soaked in sweat. It was borderline too cold to go without gloves, but the heavy winter ones I was using were too much. I decided chilled fingers were the better of two evils.

I soon found myself grinding uphill into a headwind for what felt like half an hour of purgatory, or at least it felt like half an hour but was probably only half this time. Trying to take my mind off my struggles, I let it wander, considering titles for this blerg.

As a nod to Postcard popsters, Josef K, one of their song titles, Forever Drone was first selected and then rejected. I then remembered my sweaty hands and the delight Thing#2 took in a phrase that she adopted, and used whenever appropriate (and quite a few times when wholly inappropriate.)

“Moist phalanges,” she would intone with over-precise diction, before collapsing into a fit of evil cackling. Even now, the phrase can still bring a wry smile to her face. So, in honour of Thing#2, I name this blerg entry Moist Phalanges. (May God bless her, and all who sail in her, etc. etc.)

My pain finally ended, the road dipped and I was soon dropping toward the river. Out on the bridge, the downstream side was now crowded with rowing club spectators. I looked and looked again, but there were no boats in sight. Obviously bad timing on my part as I suspect the action was now taking place many miles downstream.

As I started to winch my way painfully up the Heinous Hill,  a young came girl trotting down the road toward me and I slowed, not quite sure where she was heading and surprising myself that I could physically go any slower without immediately keeling over.

“Have you seen a small, black and white dog?” she asked tearfully.

“No, sorry.”

“He’s a bit like a Lurcher-cross,” she explained, rather unhelpfully.

I looked at her blankly, not quite knowing what a Lurcher-cross was meant to look like and suspecting now wasn’t the time to find out.

“Sorry, I haven’t seen any dogs.”

She ran on and I resumed my unfair battle with gravity.

As I started around the next bend in the road and small, shaggy, short-legged and rather non-descript dog burst out from a side-street ahead of me. I turned and looked back down the hill to where the girl was about to disappear out of sight. I really, really didn’t want to chase after her and have to climb the stupid hill again.

“Oi!” I shouted in my best, “get orff my land” voice. Luckily, she heard, stopped and looked back. I nodded my head toward her scampering pooch, and turned to start clawing my way upwards again, giving dog and owner a private moment for their beautiful and no doubt emotional reunion.

I’m no expert, but the damned thing didn’t look like any kind of Lurcher to me…

So the first long ride of the year under the belt, over 70 miles with 1,000 metres of climbing. That was hard. I’d like to think it’ll get easier from here on in, but I know I’m kidding myself.


Year Totals: 633 km / 393 miles with 6,227 metres of climbing

Diadora Polarex Plus Review

Diadora Polarex Plus Review

Should there be such a thing as an avid and attentive SLJ reader (and Lord, have mercy on their soul) they may recall that last year, when I published my Tips for Winter Riding, I mentioned that I was keen to try proper winter boots, instead of different combinations of various shoes, socks, overshoes and ad hoc barriers such as tin foil, cling film or Asda carrier bags. (Other brands are available).

That was well over a year ago. Shortly afterwards, I did indeed buy a pair of boots, which I guess you could say have been thoroughly field-tested in some horrible conditions, and through the worst of what the North East weather can throw at cyclists. There is then nothing to stop me reporting on my impressions of these boots, except my own inherent laziness, so let me finally try and correct that…

My boots of choice were Diadora Polarex Plus shoes. I bought these as an early Christmas present to myself and then negotiated extra-special dispensation from Mrs. SLJ to use them straightaway, rather than wrapping them up and hiding them under the Christmas tree while my feet froze on winter rides.


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I got the boots for what I thought was a reasonably discounted price of about £70, from the Sport Pursuit website. I think this was around half-price at the time, they now seem to retail for just over £100, although I have, rather inexplicably, also seen them advertised for as much as £350!

While these Diadora Polarex Plus shoes form the basis of this review, in the wider scheme of things, I wasn’t so much interested in this particular brand, rather the concept of winter boots in general and how they compare with the alternatives. In this I’m assuming that similar winter boots, from Shimano, Gaerne, Mavic, Lake and Northwave et al, do pretty much the same thing.

I’ve had, and been happy with, 2 or 3 pairs of Diadora cycling shoes in the past and they’ve all seemed decently solid and reasonably priced, so I never felt I was stepping into the unknown with these boots. My usual, size 43, weren’t in stock, so I went for a 44, that proved a fortuitous choice. Diadora shoes are not the most generous of fits, and the little bit of extra room in the 44 size gives me a bit more comfort and allows for a little wiggle room – even with thick or double-layered socks.

I went with the version of the boot, which comes with a heavily rubberised Duratech sole, based on Diadora’s high-end, mountain bike shoes. In direct violation of Velominati Rule # 34 (Mountain bike shoes and pedals have their place. On a mountain bike) I use MTB pedals and shoes on my winter and commuting bike, as the recessed cleat gives you at least a fighting chance if you need to push or carry your bike over any distance.

The value of my choice was illustrated a couple of years ago, when we had to clamber over walls and trek through the thick undergrowth of a wood, as a felled tree blocked the road, and then again on a ride which ended in a snowstorm, when I had to push the bike uphill on the pavement to avoid the cars sliding sideways down the road toward me. Both these incidents would have been infinitely more difficult to cope with in my road slippers, with their big plastic cleats and super-stiff soles.

It should be noted that, for the ultra-orthodox Velominati out there, Diadora also produce a road version, with a beautiful carbon-weave sole. I’m sure its impressively stiff, but I couldn’t attest to its durability. Still, even without the exotic carbon sole, my boots weigh in at happily light 400 grams, or so.

Technically the Duratech Rubber sole of the mountain bike version of the boots is rated as a 6 on Diadora’s 10-point stiffness index, whatever that means. In practical terms, I’ve found the boots to be extremely comfortable to walk in and haven’t noticed any flex when pedalling, although I’d be first to admit my feeble power output would be unlikely to trouble wet cardboard.

The chunky, heavily lugged, sole provides impressive levels of grip, which I’m sure would be a real boon out on a trail, or slipping and sliding on a cyclo-cross course. And, while the sole seems stiff and doesn’t flex, the studs and crenellations on the bottom are a soft, flexible rubber that does give, and aids walking.


diadora_polarexplus_0001


The boots came with a couple of rubberised strips to place over the cleat holes. I’m still not certain what their purpose is, I’ve never used them and haven’t missed them. I would be interested to know what the hell they’re for though, so if anyone can enlighten me …

The outside of the boot is constructed with “element-proof” Suprell-Tech. It’s matt-black and has a warm, rubberised feel to it. As well as being impressively waterproof, it seems to be extremely durable and the boots look little different now, to when I first unboxed them, even after a year and a half use, riding in some ultra-tough weather conditions.

They’re  a doddle to clean too, a quick wipe down with a wet sponge will usually do the trick, or, if muddy and “crudded” over, I just wash them in the kitchen sink, using a bit of dishwash detergent.

Appearance is subtly understated, as mentioned before a dull, stealth-black upper, enlivened only by a stiff, gloss protective heel cup embellished with red, white and green tricolore “beads” and the Diadora swoosh(?) on the outside of the toe, with the brand name on the inside. These are picked out in a high-viz green, which I think has been replaced on the latest version with white brand name and mark, or maybe that’s the distinguishing feature of the road version?

The boots have a wire boa closure, the first pair of shoes I’ve owned that uses this system. I have to admit that, despite my initial scepticism, I find these really excellent. They’re simple to use and adjust, and it’s really easy to dial in a good fit. Most importantly the reels and wires seem super-durable. Two strong, practical, reflective nylon loops on the rear help pull the boots on and off.

Around the ankle cuff, the rubberised Suprell-Tech gives way to a padded, neoprene cuff with a Velcro style strap-fastener. This is, if you’ll pardon the analogy, is the Achilles heel of the shoes and the only possible way I’ve found for water to get in, either because the strap isn’t tight enough, or in an extreme and very prolonged deluge, when it simply soaks through your tights and seeps down inside the boots.

(For this reason, in extreme conditions, Crazy Legs – who might not actually be a crazy as his name suggests – often uses tights with stirrups on that he can wear outside his (Shimano?) winter boots.)

If I had one criticism of the Diadora boots, it would be that the ankle cuff could have been a little deeper, reach higher up the calf and afford just a little more protection. (I think the Diadora boots are perhaps the shortest of those available.)

Aside from this, the  boots are, to all intents and purposes, watertight – to a much, much more impressive degree than any shoe, overshoe and waterproof sock combination that I’ve ever tried. On a number of occasions when riding through flooded roads, with the water lapping around my wheel hubs, I’ve escaped with completely dry feet and I’ve now joined the ranks of other, smug boot-wearers, who laugh at our miserable fellow cyclists with their water-logged shoes, cold and wet soggy socks and incipient trench foot.

According to the blurb, the inside of the Polarex shoes are lined with Diadora’s Diatex waterproof membrane and a soft, thermal lining for insulation. This inside lining has a fuzzy, fleecy feel that’s warm and comfortable and seems to provide a good degree of insulation.

I seldom wear more than a single pair of thermal socks with the boots, even in temperatures down to, or below freezing. While my toes can occasionally get cold, especially on longer rides, it’s never that debilitating, frozen feeling when everything becomes painfully numb and you scream like a little girl in the shower afterwards, as the blood comes boiling back into your frozen extremities. (Don’t deny it, we’ve all been there.)

Now, having tried winter boots I would struggle to go back to shoes and overshoes. They really did exceed all my expectations, and I consider them money very well spent. I also don’t think the price is too off-putting, especially if you take into account the cost of a decent pair of (still inferior) overshoes, which I used to continuously find myself replacing, as they never seem to last more than a year or two.

As for the Diadora Polarex version of a winter boot, should my current pair ever need replacing, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy the same again. Luckily, as I mentioned previously, my current pair still look as good as new and I can’t help but feel they’re going to keep my feet dry and toasty for a good while yet.