All Yellow, or the Certainty of Death, Taxes and Headwinds

All Yellow, or the Certainty of Death, Taxes and Headwinds

Total Distance:104km/65 miles & 1,232m of climbing
Riding Time:
4 hours 7 minutes
Average Speed:25.3 km/h
Group Size:28 riders, 0 FNG’s
Temperature: 9°C
Weather in a word or two:Bright, blowy, breezy

Ride Profile

I’m awake. It’s pitch black and the wind is moaning a sullen, subdued and sad lament around the rooftops and through the trees. It’s warm in the bed and cold outside. The central heating has just come on and I can here the ticking of expanding pipes. I sense the alarm on my phone is also ticking down and about to explode into light and noise. I keep hoping it doesn’t. I could happily roll over and go back to sleep.

I don’t want to get up, get dressed, force a joyless breakfast down and then cycle off into the cold and the dark. It’s January, it’s winter, the slate has been wiped clean and it’s time to start all over again. And I lack any kind of motivation.

The alarm rings, I stab the off button and slip out of bed. C’mon Sisyphus, shoulder to the boulder, here we go again …

I know I’ll be fine once I get out there, it’s just getting out there is so hard.

The routine helps. Get half dressed, feed the cats, feed myself, fill a bottle, finish dressing, fill the jersey pockets. Food, phone and money in the left, tools, keys and spares in the right. Pull the bike from the shed, strap on the lights, strap on my helmet, start the Garmin, start the Road ID app, so I can be traced in the event of complete mechanical or mental breakdown and away we go.

Don’t stop, don’t think, don’t question, don’t analyse. Just get out and get going.

I get out and get going. Sigh.

A few minutes later and I’m dropping down the Heinous Hill and still not 100% committed. I decide that if I’m the only one who turns up at the meeting place, I’ll quite happily turn around again and ride straight home. Stupid really, as there’s always, always someone who’ll turn up for the ride, no matter how foul and filthy the weather.

And so it proves. I reach the meeting point very early, but it isn’t long before others start drifting in and I’m surrounded by the usual suspects and a host of others too, hemmed in on all sides. There’s no escape now.


Main Topic of Conversation at the Meeting Point:

G-Dawg appeared, unrepentantly astride his summer bike. The devil. He’s been having sneaky rides on it all through the winter apparently, as the weather has, so far been relatively benign.

He wasn’t alone either, as there was a good smattering of lighter, plastic, “good bikes” without mudguards, lights, heavy-duty rolling stock, or other such nuisance impediments.

It’s amazing how much of a disadvantage this feels to those of us on our winter hacks – even if it is just a psychological difference. I hope there’s more to it than a psychological difference though, otherwise we’ve been foolishly squandering money on lighter, stiffer, more expensive, less robust bike kit for years.

The Garrulous Kid was on his Focus too, although he made some excuse, something about his winter bike needing a clean, or having a puncture, or a nose-bleed, or some such nonsense.

With the Colossus absent following a late-night return from a work trip, the Garrulous Kid took the opportunity to express absolute incredulity that he is a sales rep for a vaping company.

“I mean, I knew he was a sales-rep, I just didn’t realise he was a sales-rep for a vaping company!” the Garrulous Kid exclaimed with incredulity. (See, I told you. No, I’ve no idea why it was such a surprise?)

Crazy Legs informed me he has a personal letters for me and all the other Alpine or Pyrenean expeditionary’s, all the way from France.

“It’s from Yelloh campsite’s,” he explained and that was all it took, as I immediately began singing Coldplay. (I know, I know, sorry.)

Look at the stars
Look how they shine for yooo
And everything you dooo
They were all … Yell-o!

“That’s a very bad start to the day,” Crazy Legs complained.

I agreed and immediately apologised, but the damage was done.

“How many Coldplay songs can you name?” Crazy Legs challenged.

Coldplay, eh – producers of multiple award winning, global best-selling, albums across a twenty-odd year career, that has seen them rack up sales of over 100 million records worldwide. This should be easy …

“Well, there’s, err … Yellow,” I began tentatively.

“I Will Fix You,” Crazy Legs added.

“And … um … Parachutes … is there one called Parachutes?” I dredged up the title of their first album from somewhere, hoping it was also the name of a track.

We asked no less an authority than the Red Max.

“Well, there’s Yellow … ” then his well ran dry too.

“Yeah, got that one,” Crazy Legs affirmed.

“I Will Fix You,” Rab Dee chipped in.

“Yeah, got that one too, and, maybe Parachutes?” Crazy Legs summarised our paltry efforts to date.

“Oh and the Napoleon one,” Crazy Legs remembered, I think he meant Viva La Vida.

In desperation we turned to the Garrulous Kid, who fluently reeled off a whole host of song titles we can only assume were accurate, confirmed the Napoleon song was Viva La Vida and that there was indeed a track called Parachutes on the album of the same name.

“How come you know so much about Dad Rock?” Crazy Legs challenged him.

“Well, my Dad listens to them.”

Right. Obviously.

“Wasn’t there a group called Yello?” the Red Max mused. “What did they sing again?”

Oh dear, here we go again, this was turning into a cognitive assessment test for the over-50’s and we were all failing horribly.

“They had that song that went, ow-ow … chick-chicka-chicka,” I suggested, “What was that called?”

“Was it not called Ow-Ow … Chick-Chicka-Chicka?” the Red Max suggested, not unreasonably.

Luckily, we were distracted when Zardoz rolled up, for his first ride of the New Year and following an absence of a couple of months. I gave him a cheery wave across a pavement now crowded with bikes and riders.

“Are you so sad you’ve started waving at buses, now?” Crazy Legs enquired, nodding at where the number 43 was just pulling out.”

I tried to explain I’d actually been waving at a long lost member of our tribe, but he was having none of it.

“So, why aren’t you waving at that one?” he demanded to know, as the X25 followed the 43.

Realising sensible answers just weren’t going to cut it, I told him I had an innate and irrational fear of the letter X, which apparently is an actual thing and is (possibly) called xinoaphobia.

Aether outlined our route for the day, called for a split and volunteered to lead the second group. G-Dawg was tasked with heading up the front group and they started to coalesce slowly. A quick headcount had the front group undermanned by 11 to 17, so I nudged off the pavement and tagged on, forgoing any opportunity to reaffirm my allegiance to the fomenting Flat White schism.


I managed to catch up with Zardoz as we got underway and learned he’d been suffering from a heavy cold that was only just starting to ease. He would periodically break off from our conversation to forcibly shotgun (snotgun?) viscous gunk from one or other of his nostrils, providing temporary relief until the cold had him locked and loaded once again.

The Monkey Butler Boy complained about being caught in the blow-back from one of these blasts and even my suggestion that a slippery, slick coating would probably help him cut through the air with greater aerodynamic efficiency didn’t seem to placate him.

In between times, we had a chat about Tim Krabbé’s, The Rider and in particular the (surely apocryphal) tale that Jacques Anquetil used to take his water bottle out of its holder before every climb and stick it in the back pocket … to ensure his bike was as light as possible.

As we rotated riders off the front, Zardoz became more and more aware of us moving up the order, until we were sitting second wheel and due our own turn leading. On the next hill and still struggling with his cold and extended break from the bike, he slipped quietly back and out of the danger zone.



I then found myself on the front alongside the Monkey Butler Boy as we cut a deep isthmus into our route, a finger of fun™ that led us down to Twizell and then straight back out again. Just because.

As the road started to rise, I heard the unmistakable swash-swash-swash of G-Dawg power climbing past everyone else and he joined me on the front as we pushed through Whalton and then on to Meldon.

At one point we turned directly into a headwind being funnelled straight down the road between high hedges to blow directly in our faces.

“And there it is,” G-Dawg remarked.

“Isn’t there some old saying about the only certainty in life being death, taxes and headwinds?” I wondered.

“Something like that,” he agreed, although we both realised that this was actually nothing more than a gentle breeze in comparison to some of the gales we’ve endured in recent weeks.

Dropping down from Meldon, we passed and waved at a lone OGL, struggling up in the opposite direction and, by his own account, “riding like a slug in salt.”

As we started the climb up to Dyke Neuk, I dropped off the front and drifted backwards to find Zardoz, plugging gamely on, but obviously suffering.

We called a brief halt at Dyke Neuk, where a refuelling Biden Fecht devoured a banana and then carefully folded up the peel and dropped it in his pocket.

“Is that not biodegradable?” I wondered.

“Yes, but every time we stop here I’ve been chucking them over this hedge,” Biden Fecht explained, “I just don’t think the home owner’s going to be best pleased to find a mouldering pile of banana skins in his garden.”

I immediately thought of a nuclear wasteland caused by a mountain of radioactive, mouldering banana skins, all surrounded by a fully Hazmat suited-and-booted NEST team, complete with madly ticking Geiger counters.

Then I remembered the Radiation Vibe ride and the fact we’d debunked the theory that bananas were dangerously radioactive.

Chomping down on some esoteric, home-made tray-bake and scattering random pieces of date, seeds and nuts, Rab Dee was all for us being seen as propagators, bountifully spreading seeds and good will in our wake.

My imagined nuclear wasteland was then briefly replaced by a glimpse of sweeping banana plantations and swaying date palms, transforming the drab Northumberland landscape into a bright, tropical paradise…

“But of course,” Rab Dee continued, “It’s not the peel of the banana that we should leave behind, but the fruit and seeds.”

“Are you inviting me to go and take a dump in this blokes garden?” Biden Fecht wondered.

It was time to leave.

As we pushed on toward the swoop down and up through Hartburn, the Garrulous Kid relayed a message from Zardoz at the back, who said that he was struggling and would make his own way to the cafe, so we weren’t to wait.

I was then the last man as we approached Middleton Bank and I was slowly distanced on the climb. I’m using winter-bikitis as an excuse and sticking to it, regardless of its merits, or verity.

Over the top, I passed the Garrulous Kid, stopped and pulled over to the side of the road “to sort his nose out.” Or at least I think that’s what he said, when I slowed to check if he was okay.

There then followed a furious, largely futile chase, as I tried to close on the front-runners, who had already accelerated as they made their run at the cafe.

Past Bolam Lake, I held the gap at around a couple of hundred metres, but it was one against many, they would only get faster, while I tired and slowed.

Through the Milestone Woods and up onto the rollers, Biden Fecht was detached from the front group and I closed the gap with one last-gasp acceleration, dropping onto his wheel and lurking there.

I think he finally noticed me as we began the last clamber up to the cafe, when he kicked clear and I had nothing left and couldn’t follow.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:

I was queuing, waiting to be served when Crazy Legs and the Red Max led in the Flat White Crew.

“Oh Yeah!” I declared immediately.

“Well done,” Crazy Legs congratulated me, instantly understanding what I was talking about and recognising I’d finally remembered that the Yello song, “Ow-Ow … Chick-Chicka-Chicka,” is actually titled “Oh Yeah.”

“And, The Race was their other big hit,” he continued. Of course, now it’s all coming back to me and chapeau to the Flat White Crew, who had obviously rallied around to answer the day’s most important and burning issue, completing their work assiduously and with aplomb.

At our table, Rainman described how (loyal Dutchman that he is) he’s already planning to inculcate a love of cycling and bike riding in his still infant daughter.

Taffy Steve reported that his own son showed no interest whatsoever in cycling, but could perhaps be described as an elite Fortnite player. He had however started leaning toward competitive swimming as a sport of choice, something Taffy Steve seems to be wrestling with. Apparently spending 4 or 5 hours crammed into uncomfortable poolside seats with other parents, watching an interminable series of races and waiting for your own progeny’s single, two-minute long event doesn’t have great appeal.

As an ex-competitive swimmer, I did suggest it was a good choice as it’s perhaps the most over-rewarded of any sport – if you simply want to collect piles of meaningless medals and trophies.

I explained that any half way decent, competitive swimmer at junior level was probably proficient in more than one stroke and the boundless opportunities this could present – butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle at 50 metres, 100 metres and 200 metres, plus various individual medley, team medley and team relays at different distances too.

That’s over 20 opportunities to win something, without even getting into the longer events. With competitions often held on a weekly basis, the opportunities are almost endless, which it’s why I’ve never been impressed with anyone claiming to have a hat-full of swimming medals.

As a reference point, I compared Michael Phelps performance with that of Chris Hoy in the 2008 Olympic Games, where they both took part in exactly 18 races. The difference? Hoy won each and every one of these races (Phelps didn’t) but the swimmer walked away with 8 gold medals, the cyclist was rewarded with just 3.

Talk turned to David Millar, with Mini Miss wondering what he was doing now and recalling how, after his talk at one of the Braveheart dinners, she found him outside smoking.

We found it odd that he was smoking, not so much because he was (at the time) an elite professional athlete, but because it seemed such a passé and mundane thing to do for someone seemingly so resolutely set on appearing cool.

“I would have though toking on a Cherry Bakewell flavoured vape pen would have been more his style,” Taffy Steve decided.

“Cherry Bakewell?” I asked, surprised and a whole new world of weird vape flavours opened up to me with a single question. Apparently, peanut butter flavour vaping is a thing, as is french toast … and bacon … and beer … and Dorito’s and … even crabs legs.

Talk of the weird things people ingest led to Taffy Steve’s graphic description of a visit to a kebab manufacturer. He was at least able to assure me that the err … wholesome looking tree trunk of slowly rotating animal product wasn’t the truncated limb of a benign pachyderm.

He had however been concerned about the health hazards of continuously chilling and re-heating kebab meat, but was assured its salt content was so great, no bacteria could possibly survive in it.

He then concluded that bacteria which, he reminded us, can survive in the ultra-high pressure, super-heated temperatures, pitch-black darkness and toxic environment alongside deep ocean thermal vents, cannot live in something we regularly choose to eat.

I don’t know what I find most disturbing, the thought that bacteria can survive in kebab meat, or the suggestion that they can’t.

Three coffees down and with civilians stacking up to claim our seats, we departed en masse to form a larger than normal group for the ride home.


I fell in alongside Crazy Legs for his patented diatribe against Canadian bacon and then to find out he’s due more tests on his pernicious lung issues. He mentioned one potential cause by name, it sounded particularly unpleasant and was seemingly loaded with lots of random X’s, but being a xinoaphobic, I blanked the name immediately.

The pace was brisk up Berwick Hill and then manic down the other side, so we scorched through Dinnington and arrived at the turn-off in short order.

As I entered the Mad Mile I immediately noted that the wind had started to pick up again and dropped resolutely onto G-Dawg’s wheel, for as much shelter as I could get before striking out solo.

Finally dragging myself to the top of the valley I looked down and across the river. In the distance the wind was shredding the clouds and harrying the remnants away downstream. Once across I’d have a full-on tailwind for the last few miles – I just had to get there.


YTD Totals: 312 km / 194 miles with 4,619 metres of climbing.

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Back to the Wind

Back to the Wind

Total Distance:80km/50 miles & 1,114 metres of climbing
Riding Time:3 hours 19 minutes
Average Speed:24.2 km/h
Group Size:9
Temperature:12°C
Weather in a word or two:Unseasonably warm

Ride Profile

Another change of weather for the last Saturday club run of the year, and a morning that proved to be startlingly warm, but once again disrupted by almost constant gusting and bellowing winds that often made riding a draining struggle.

Any hopes of a peaceful, relaxed start to my ride were shattered by a squalling, squealing bit of extreme mudguard frotting. This had the crowd at a bus stop clamping hands over their ears, while one or two ran to find cover, no doubt suspecting my tyre was about to blow.

Like a car with a furiously slipping fan belt, it sounded much worse than it actually was, but there was no way I could ride with that racket. I stopped for a bit of all-in, mudguard wrangling, made a few adjustments, picked up the front of the bike and spun the wheel. Blissful silence.

I pressed on, getting no more than 5 yards before the infernal racket had me stopping again. I finally determined that the noise was actually coming from the rear wheel, not the front one as I’d first thought. I bent the mudguard stays a little, this way and that and it seemed to work.

Remounting again I pushed off and pressed on, tentatively at first and then with more confidence as the squealing appeared to have been cured. Crossing the river, I first picked up a tailwind and then picked up the pace, wondering how much time I had lost thwarting my bikes attempts to earn me an ASBO.

Over my right shoulder, a thin paring of a ghostly moon was just starting to fade into the brightening day, while ahead the sunrise painted the clouds in pastel pinks and peaches. It was a pretty enough picture, but lacking the primordial drama of last weeks fiery inferno.

I ran my first time-check as I clambered out of the valley. I’d done 4.7 miles and it was 8:39. My usual guide to being on schedule is having covered 8.42 miles by 8:42 and, by this measure, I was desperately behind. I pressed down on the pedals that bit harder, found a bigger gear and dropped a little lower on the bike to help combat the wind.

Two mile further on, when my Garmin still read 4.7 miles covered, I realised I’d somehow managed to pause it while wrangling the mudguards and I probably wasn’t as far behind schedule as I first thought. Idiot. Sure enough, it was only a couple of minutes past the hour and well within my usual arrival window when I finally reached the meeting place.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Our ride leader for the day, the Hammer had taken to early morning social-media to question the sanity of riding when it was “blowing an absolute gale.” He’d manned up for the occasion though and then firmly doubled down on macho by arriving on his fixie.

He reported that Taffy Steve was attempting to batter his way in from the coast, but otherwise numbers were likely to be somewhat depressed.

For some bizarre reason, the Garrulous Kid was eager to tell anyone who’d listen (and a few who wouldn’t) that the Red Max had taken to calling him “pencil dick” for the entirety of their extended ride home last week.

Having pointlessly posited unfavourable impressions about his own anatomical short-comings, the Garrulous Kid then spent the next few minutes refuting them, before asserting that he was, in fact, rather mightily and enormously endowed in the … err … trouser department.

This suddenly started to make sense to G-Dawg, who realised carrying such an encumbrance could potentially have a material effect on bike handling skills.

“So, can you not turn to the left, simply because you dress to the right then?” he wondered …

All told, there were 9 of us gathered around as the clock ticked past 9:15 and our usual departure time. Five long minutes later, there was still only 9 of us and we decided that we had our group for the day. (Apparently Taffy Steve arrived scant minutes after we’d left, having battled a debilitating headwind along his entire route, but at least he would have had a turbo-charged ride back again, having barely missed out.)

“Two groups, then?” Captain Black queried, knowing full well we’d be in one very compact group, riding as close together as possible to try and exact the maximum shelter from the rider in front.

G-Dawg and the Hammer led us out and away we went.


It was brutal and exposed and out on the roads, hard work even tucked at the back and we had a constant rotation on the front, as we burned out a succession of riders. Everyone was battling with the wind and what little conversation there was seemed terse and desultory.

Our ninth man was Fleisher Yarn, a refugee from the Grognard’s, who was starting to struggle by the time we hit Black Callerton and an enforced pause at the level-crossing. Here we had to let a Metro rumble past, laden with brave, brave shoppers heading for the Sales, a brief respite before we pushed on again.

By the time we reached the junction of Stamfordham Road, Fleisher Yarn was long gone and nowhere in sight. We pulled over in a driveway to hunker down and wait, looking back down the long straight road for any sign of our detached companion.

After a brief wait he appeared and started to draw closer. Seeing us stopped at the junction he waved for us just to continue without him, day-glo green gloves flashing in the light like some manic, overworked air marshal on a carrier flight-deck.

When we didn’t move, he continued to wave us off, his gestures becoming more and more pronounced as we didn’t seem to be responding. Finally, like the idiots we undoubtedly are, we just took to waving wildly and happily back at him, every time he tried to move us on.

Regrouping briefly, Fleisher Yarn explained he was struggling to keep up, not enjoying the conditions and was happy to just go solo and amend his route accordingly. We pushed on without him, while he set a course for Kirkley Cycles.

I took a turn in the wind just before we hit Stamfordham, linking up with Ovis, who’d already wrung out, used up and discarded Captain Black at the front. Ovis was obviously “on a good one,” feeling super-strong and frisky. He set a pace that I had to scramble to match and which he kept only just shy of being desperately uncomfortable.

Just past the village of Fenwick, we took the lane that would route us around Matfen and, half way up, picked up a trio of cyclists, wastrel’s, waifs and strays, although I’m not sure which was which. They had stopped at the side of the road, perhaps to regather their strength and, from there, they politely implored us to let them tag onto the back of the group.



“The more the merrier, there’s plenty of room at the front,” Captain Black informed them happily, but that wasn’t what they had in mind. Inexplicably they declined his offer and slotted in at the back. (To be fair, they not only bolstered our numbers, but would later contribute on the front too.)

By the time we turned for the Quarry, I’d dropped off the front and was drifting back through the pack, where I found the Garrulous Kid, malingering, avoiding the front and saving himself for the cafe sprint. He was buoyed by the absence of the Colossus and liked his chances.

I kept pace with the sprinters until I felt I was well inside the neutralised 3 km zone and eased back to let them have their fun and the Garrulous Kid his fleeting moment of glory.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

The Hammer wondered how much pleasure the Garrulous Kid got from a sprint victory where he managed to beat a bunch of old blokes twice his age, when a quarter of them were on fixies and they’d all spent the past couple of hours towing him around the lanes.

I could have saved him his breath, the Garrulous Kid liked it plenty…

Talk then turned to magnificently bald domes, hair loss and the other impediments of ageing. In an act of pure mischief, I mentioned to the Garrulous Kid that I thought it looked like his hair was receding already.

And he bit.

Hard.

He spent the next 20 minutes vigorously denying he was losing his hair, while smoothing down his fringe, tentatively probing the back of his scalp and taking multiple close-up selfies of his hairline.

G-Dawg wondered if genetics played a part. “Is your dad’s hair receding too?” he queried innocently.

“No, but his mum’s as bald as an egg,” Captain Black quipped.

“I have a classic V-shaped hairline,” the Garrulous Kid recounted defensively, in what sounded suspiciously like something he’d been told to say.

“Ah, like Ray Reardon?” G-Dawg wondered. There was then a brief interlude when we tired to determine if Ray “Dracula” Reardon was still around. (Now 86, Google reports he’s happily retired and living in Devon.)

“No, not like Ray Reardon, like Daniel Craig,” the Garrulous Kid insisted.

“Who is going bald,” I added, shamelessly recalling the shock# horror# headlines in the Daily Heil: “Is James Bond going bald?” This erudite, momentous and earth-shattering article had quoted the world’s leading hair loss expert, who had “voiced his concern’s over 007’s receding temples in hit movie Skyfall.”

(I know, I know … there’s so much wrong with that last paragraph, that I don’t know where to start, but let’s just go with the flow, eh?)

We then recalled some truly classic comb-overs, with that of Bobby Charlton coming out “top” and even trumping Donald Trump’s fantastical, but completely natural, candy-floss concoction.

“Bobby Charlton, eh? His hair could be offside, even when he was standing in his own half.” G-Dawg declared.

Appearances briefly became the topic du jour, with the Hammer emphasising the need for a good moisturising regimen, while lauding Captain Black’s superior skin tone. He then suggested Captain Black bore more than a passing resemblance to good-looking, Belgian Classics maestro, Peter van Petegem.

I checked, he was right:

On the left, Captain Black, while on the right is Peter van Petegem in his Mysteron Team kit

It was still too early for G-Dawg to set off for home – he’s terrified he’ll get back before 1 o’clock one week and will then be expected back before 1 o’clock every week – so we went for a sneaky, strictly verboten, second free cup of coffee and learned all about the Hammer’s lost weekend, in a hotel in Amsterdam. 

I dunno, but it sounds like there could be a good song in there, somewhere …


Finally prised out of the cafe, we saddled- up and rode off for the trip back. Despite the Garrulous Kid still harping on about his hair, things were going smoothly, until Berwick Hill, when Captain Black pulled his pedal clean off its spindle.

I turned back to find him standing at the side of the road, a Look pedal still firmly clamped to the bottom of his shoe and learning just how difficult it is to uncleat with your bare hands.

He tried slotting the pedal back on its spindle, but it kept pulling loose and he realised he’d have to ride a little more slowly and carefully. He waved us away and set to follow at a more sedate pace, limping his way back home.

G-Dawg suffered a ridiculously close punishment pass for daring to hold up traffic for a heartbeat as we skirted the airport. Sadly the driver didn’t take up our invite to discuss his grievances in a polite and considered manner.

The group then split and I tracked G-Dawg and Ovis through the Mad Mile, before swinging away for home. The wind had died down a little, it was incredibly mild and the sky was the pale, washed out colour of faded denim, marred only by a few gauzy aeroplane contrails.

It was turning into a very pleasant last hurrah for 2018, ending with a similar mileage total to my 2017 and the positives and good experiences by far outweighing the negatives.

Now I get to start all over again, but with a small interlude for Thing#2’s birthday next week, when I’ll miss the first official club run of 2019.

The end of the year seems like a good time to stop and take stock and I’ve now got an additional week to consider if I want to continue with this thing (the crap writing, not the crap riding, obviously).

We’ll see.


2018 Totals: 7,341 km / 4,562 miles with 89,974 metres of climbing.

Tinselitis and Other Chaffin’ Nonsense

Tinselitis and Other Chaffin’ Nonsense
Total Distance:100km/62 miles with 1,025 metres climbing
Riding Time:4 hours 11 minutes
Average Speed:23.9km/h
Group Size:26
Temperature: 8°C
Weather in a word or two:Mild

Ride Profile

Heavy rain overnight had cleared, but left the road soaked and my tyres made a sibilant hiss and seemed to be shushing me all the way down the hill … shhh!

It was chillier than I’d expected, the digital sign on the factory unit flashing just 6°C, a grey, drab, dreary, dark start. Still, we were only one day removed from shortest day of the year and the rain wasn’t forecast to return. It would do.

And then, once across the river and turning back on myself, I was rewarded by a glorious sunrise. Well, not so much the sun rising, it was more as if the earth had cracked and was leaking molten light from its core, painting the underbelly of the clouds in a roseate glow and setting the horizon to flame. It was worth the price of admission alone.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

We had a good turnout for the ride and a varied assortment of Christmas jumpers, T-shirts, lights, tinsel and dangling baubles, but G-Dawg and the Colossus stole the show. G-Dawg in bright red ladies leggings (he assured me they were bought specially and not stolen from his wife’s wardrobe) topped with a very busy top, all Santa hats, Christmas trees and ribbon-wrapped gifts.

And then the Colossus… well, the Colossus wore a formal Christmas suit – blazer and trousers, heavily patterned in striped candy canes, stars and Christmas stockings, a garish, riotous, technicolour nightmare, that I found vaguely threatening. In fact, his outfit lacked only a jaunty bowler hat to resemble a psychedelic tolchoking malchick from a fever dream Clockwork Orange.

The Monkey Butler Boy had his entire bike frame swathed and swaddled in ropes of thick golden tinsel. Given his usual obsessions, the obvious question then was, is that actually aero? Would the individual strands of tinsel smooth turbulent airflow and make it more laminar? Were boffins from Team Sky watching, measuring and gauging, with an eye to next years Tour de France and more marginal gains?

G-Dawg was worried the tinsel could get caught in the Monkey Butler Boys cassette and suddenly lock his freewheel, while I thought it might unravel and trail behind him, like a meteor’s tail on an earth bound Haleys comet.

Just before 9.15 Garmin Muppet Time, G-Dawg stepped up to address the gathered throng, “Hello, for those of you who don’t know, this is Richard,” Richard of Flanders uncertainly raised an arm, “and this is the route for the day …”


We split into two, with a general coalescing agreed at Hallington, once we were out of the ‘burbs. I dropped onto the back of the first group and away we went, the Cow Ranger on the front and driving us at a brisk pace from the off.

I slotted in beside the Red Max, currently languishing in the dog house as he’d miscalculated his holidays at work and now has to be in on Christmas Eve. Even worse, being responsible for all the work planning, he’d previously decided there would be no early finish for those unfortunates pulling the last shift, not reckoning on actually being one of them himself.

Riding behind the Monkey Butler Boy, I had to continuously swipe loose bits tinsel out of my face, as he shed a golden trail in his wake. It prompted me to enquire after the health of Red Max’s Christmas tree and I learned that not only had the Monkey Butler Boy denuded it of all the tinsel, but one of their cats had perfected the fine art of hooking baubles off with a single claw and disdainfully flinging them across the room.



With the Cow Ranger driving us onward and with the occasional manoeuvre to avoid the blizzards of stray tinsel being shed ahead of me, we were soon at the rendezvous point and pulled over to wait for the second group.

The Monkey Butler Boy dropped his bike into a ditch and started taking pictures on his phone.

“I’m gonna ‘gram them,” he declared.

“Huh?” I asked brightly.

“Gram them,” he repeated.

I still had no idea what he was saying.

“Eh?”

“Put them on Instagram,” he explained, rolling his eyes at the old dotard.

“Oh. Ah. Right. Instagram”

Richard of Flanders complimented the Peugeot on it’s subtle French branding, tricolour bar end plugs that match the even more subtle tricolour etched into the top tube. I’d bought these from the same place as the Lion of Flanders plugs for the Holdsworth, VeloHeaven a not too expensive bit of bike bling, that I thought added a nice touch. Of course I didn’t admit to
Googling the French flag to confirm that I’d put them in the wrong way round at first.

The Monkey Butler Boy looked down at his once gleaming, white shoes in disdain. “No matter how many baby wipes you use, you just can’t keep them pristine and white,” he moaned. The shoes were indeed looking somewhat yellowed and poisonous now. I realised he wasn’t wearing overshoes and then that he was wearing mitts not gloves.

“Aren’t your hands cold?” I wondered.

“Freezing. But they were fine when I set off from Wallsend this morning.” Ah right, that’ll be the famous Wallsend microclimate then, warmed by the benign currents of the Jet Stream and North Atlantic Drift, a balmy, semi-tropical enclave in the heart of frigid Tyneside.

We seemed to wait an age for the other group to join us (they’d had a puncture) and talk turned to Christmas preparations. The Garrulous Kid was complaining about the expense of presents for his girlfriend and then, admitted he didn’t like Christmas Day at all, chiefly because his uncle always brought his bulldog around (let’s just call the dog Onan for now) and it always had vigorous sexual congress with the Garrulous Kid’s pillow.

“Let me guess,” the Red Max piped up, ” And you don’t realise until you wake up with the pillowcase stuck to your face?”

“Hmm, that explains your strange doggy odour,” I volunteered, “I thought it was just your Pedigree Chum body spray.”

The Red Max then wondered if blaming the dog for random, seminal emissions in a teenagers bedroom wasn’t a bit unfair on our canine friends and he imagined an on-going conversation between the Garrulous Kid and his mother …

“Ugh! What’s this?”

“Oh Mum! Onan’s been at it again.”

“But your uncle hasn’t been round with the dog for three months now…”

With the Monkey Butler Boy continuing to shed tinsel, I remarked that at least German Fighter Command wouldn’t know our numbers, or the destination of our raid.

“Huh?” the Monkey Butler Boy asked brightly.

“Window.” I told him.

“Eh?”

He still had no idea what I was saying.

“Window,” I repeated,”Düppel, radar countermeasures” rolling my eyes at the ignorance of youth.

“He’ll always be chaff in the wind to me,” the Red Max added as a postscript.

Luckily, we were saved from further discourse when the second group finally rolled past, we tagged on the back and were off again.

At one point above us a small kestrel appeared, fluttering wings and split-second pauses keeping it fixed in place, hanging directly over the road. “Drone!” the Big Yin announced wryly. Well, I chuckled, but then I hadn’t been delayed at Gatwick for 16 hours.

We picked our way through to Mitford, descending into the Wansbeck Valley to the accompaniment of a droning, honking wail from a set of vigorously asphyxiated bag-pipes. We then passed the lone piper, obviously banished out into the chill, dank garden to practice his dark arts, well out of the earshot of the rest of his family.

The discordant wailing brought a small tear to Aether’s eye and he emitted a little, subdued “Och aye the noo!” Everyone else seemed to quicken their pace to put a bit of distance between us and the unnatural noise as quickly as possible.

We did a loop around Mitford and then, as a novel, new twist, found ourselves cautiously descending the Mur de Mitford for the first time. All went well and then we were back to climbing. I managed to reserve a stint on the front until after the hated drag up to Dyke Neuk this time.

The various assaults on our senses continued as we passed the Dyke Neuk inn, this time it was to be smell not hearing that suffered, the air heavy with the rather unpleasant odour of over-cooked Brussell sprouts.

On the front alongside me, Richard of Flanders slowed the pace down and we kept the group together down through the dip and rise around Hartburn and the turn for Angerton, where we called a pee stop.

The group became attenuated on the climb up to Bolam Lake, as Spry rode off the front. A few hundred metres later and Ovis and Andeven followed. I waited to see if anyone was going to take up the chase and when they didn’t, I swung wide and accelerated away.

I thought a few others might follow my lead and we could work together to bridge across to the front. I had no takers though and I ended up hanging off the front on a bit of a chasse patates. Still, whatever gap I’d opened up most have been fairly sizeable as I hung out there through the Milestone Woods, up and over the rollers and round the corner of the last bend on the final climb, before I was caught and dropped.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

I took perhaps a last chance for another seasonal stollen scone, working on the assumption they’ll not be around much longer and I should enjoy them while I can. I ordered, while pondering why the Garrulous Kid’s helmet appeared to have Special Liz written on one side.

At our table, Buster had decided wool jumpers, no matter how jaunty they looked, were no substitute for technical sportswear, complaining he’d been overheating during the ride, but chilled at the same time as his Santa jumper wasn’t even remotely windproof. Usually this would have been the cue for OGL to tell us all about the good old day, riding in thick, wool jerseys and shorts with a real chamois insert, but he was absent and missed a golden opportunity for more lore building.

Buster said he’s considering joining Crazy Legs’ annual expedition to the mountains of France next year, finances permitting. He took the opportunity to question Captain Black and me about the trip. He was particularly keen to understand the niceties of our typical itinerary, which was usually a Thursday depart, travelling on BA to France via a Heathrow transfer, 3 days riding and a return trip on the Monday by the same route.

He then did that quick phone-tapping thing that youngsters do. “Hmm, Queasy Jet fly direct to Geneva, but only twice a week, Sunday’s and Friday’s.” He paused to consider.

“That means we could fly out on a Sunday, have 4 days riding and fly back on a Friday. That would still be cheaper and easier than the BA flights, especially if we hired bikes across there and didn’t have to pay baggage fees. Then of course, hiring the cars would be a lot cheaper and simpler too.”

“Woah, woah, woah, hold on youngster, ” I complained, “You can’t just come in and tip the current order upside down based on logic, common sense and a bucketful of sound economic and logistical benefits!”

We all admired the Red Max’s new gloves, bright red of course and newly purchased from Planet X. They even had a fold away cover so you could convert them to mitts for a bit of added protection.

He admitted he’d actually bought them as a Christmas present for the Monkey Butler Boy, but took a liking to them when they arrived, so had decided to keep them. Once again Taffy Steve was left in awe and deeply humbled by the Red Max’s innate parenting skills – a sort of a modern day Spartan agoge based on the principles that if it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger.

It was time then for us to all line up for the semi-traditional, group photo outside, with Carlton stepping up to the plate as our resident Ansel Adams.

“Will you post it up somewhere?” Princess Fiona enquired.

There then followed one of those awkward and tentative, new-tech conversations us older folk have when discussing something that’s (rudely) second nature to the youngsters, with lots of uncertain talk about airdrops, cloud postings, instant messaging and the like.

I was tempted to step in and suggest that Carlton simply ‘gram the pictures, but didn’t rate my chances of explaining how to do it if someone called my bluff.


Photo opportunities fulfilled for another year, we were then off, splitting into two groups, the Red Max leading a handful off on a slightly longer, alternative route home. I stuck to the traditional return run, facing strict instruction to be back on time to greet scheduled holiday visitors.


Paul Dorman©

I spent the ride back chatting with Buster about the parlous state of the guitar industry and the value for money vs. quality conundrum of Planet X. Once again I found myself recommending their mighty lobster mitts for the most extreme conditions.

Before long I was following the Colossus and G-Dawg through the Mad Mile, chuckling at all the people pointing out the strange man in the strange suit. Then I was off on my own, riding unusually quiet roads, even those around the local shopping centre. It might have been a quiet Christmas for the nation’s High Street businesses, but I’m not complaining


YTD Totals: 7,261 km / 4,512 miles with 88,830 metres of climbing.

Entropy

Entropy

Club Run, Saturday 1st December, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:92 km/57 miles with 605 metres of climbing
Ride Time:3 hours 47 minutes
Average Speed:24.4 kph
Group Size:24
Temperature:6°C
Weather in a word or two:Unremittingly bleak

Ride Profile

The amber tinted lenses of my Agu cycling specs can usually make even the bleakest of days appear bright and sunny, but they must have developed a fault and stopped working on Saturday. The sky was sombre-hued and oppressively dark, piled with heavy clouds, while at ground level, a dull, chilly mist hung low, wet and stifling. Still, I thought happily, dank, damp and dreary as it is, at least it’s not actually raining…

Front and back lights on and blinking away furiously in the murk, I dropped off the hill and began to make my way to the meeting point.

I found both sides of the bridge swarming with cars, trailers, boats and over 100 crews, all congregating for the Rutherford Head of the River Race, which promised a pretty full day of competition out on the water.

The Tyne Rowing Club would later describe this event as being held in “excellent conditions” although they did qualify this with the admission that they just meant it was excellent for rowing – i.e. calm and windless. They did acknowledge that crews, launch drivers, marshals and umpires suffered mightily in the freezing cold rain.

This freezing cold rain featured in our ride too, starting almost the moment we left the meeting point and continuing, without pause, for the entire duration of our ride and beyond. Another bleak and brutal day – to be endured as much as it was enjoyed.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

I noticed G-Dawg had relocated his big brass bell to the side of his stem.  This, he explained, was not only more discrete, but stopped him sounding like a struck gong whenever he rode through a pothole. Besides, I suggested, he could always ring it with his knee, like the cycling equivalent of a one man band. G-Dawg then fondly reminisced about utterly destroying the down-tube shifter on his old mountain bike, when he kneed it into oblivion during a particularly vigorous, out of the saddle climbing exercise. 

We were hoping that Goose would turn up with the new 1,500 lumen front light he’s been boasting about, but it wasn’t to be. Sensibly he’d decided that his already weighty, steel behemoth of a grand touring bike, burdened under multiple pannier racks, was handicap enough, without adding the additional weight of his new portable searchlight and separate battery pack.

He did suggest the new lamp was good for picking out bombers on a moonless night, communicating with fishing boats far offshore, or just turning midnight into midday. I wondered if it would also be useful for lamping rabbits and badgers, a use Goose hadn’t previously considered, but now began to seriously think about. Perhaps it could even have brightened the gloom of this particular morning …

But then again, probably not. 

Goose sought out OGL for advice about swapping out the cantilever brakes on his steel behemoth for something more effective. The price of this advice was, of course, the standard, ritual condemnation of his bike, this time with the added spice of an assertion that Goose’s rear wheel was, in highly technical terms, fucked. The rim apparently badly worn and the tyre bulging.

“She’s gonna blow,” I think was the exact phrase used, something I never thought I’d hear outside of Hollywood’s hoariest movie cliche’s. (According to the Short List, it belongs in the top 20 most over-used lines in Hollywood blockbusters, having appeared, with scant variation, in 53 different movies.)

Shockingly, it was Garmin Muppet Time +2, before a seriously tardy Aether called for attention and began to address the gathered riders, “Hello, for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Richard … and this is the route for the day.”

The plan was to include an ascent of the Quarry climb, before a general re-grouping, with longer route options around Capheaton and Hallington. 

Crazy Legs outlined the Third Way, a more refined, relaxed and genteel, Flat White Ride, that would once again make use of the excellent cafe facilities at Matfen. I flashed him a quick thumbs up – it seemed like a grand plan.

Although shorn of the actual and original Monkey Butler Boy this week, his Wrecking Crew of Monkey Butler Boy Mini-Me’s all congregated at the start, aiming to set out with us, like a fighter escort for a group of heavy bombers. After brief exposure to their chatter, I’ve decided the most appropriate collective noun for a group of Monkey Butler Boys is a squabble.

Ignoring the squabble, who would we know, abandon us after just a few miles, there were 24 of us and we decided to split into two groups. Numbers looked suspiciously low in the front group as they started to form up, so I bumped down off the pavement and joined up, hoping to even things out a little.


With Jimmy Mac, Kermit, the Cow Ranger and Rainman driving things along on the front, we started fast and just kept going.

The pace was so high that when Caracol dropped back to pull on a waterproof jacket in the face of rapidly intensifying rain, he had a real chase just to catch back on.

Then, once they reached Bingo Fuel, the squabble made off like the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz. I thought at one point they had managed to abduct the Garrulous Kid in his ruby red jacket. Somehow though he managed to extricate himself from their evil clutches and slowly dropped back and into our group again.



I hung at the back, catching-up with Kermit, before dropping in alongside a relative FNG, Baby Doc, for much of the ride.

With his help I charted the ingress of cold water as it breached my defences, first the waterproof gloves, then the waterproof boots and finally the forearms of my waterproof jacket. I made use of his medical expertise to check out known cures for trench foot, reasoning it could be knowledge I might need before the end of the ride. 

We also discussed why certain drivers, particularly those who struggle to wear a cap the right way round, pay good money to make their cars sound broken. We reached no conclusions.

As we hammered through Matfen, I was tempted to peel off into the cafe and await the appearance of Crazy Legs and the rest of the Flat White Crew, but the opportunity went past long before cryogenically sluggish limbs could respond to my frantic brain signals.

Caracol shipped his chain on the climb, so we had a brief pause to regroup, before the pace was pushed up again, as we drove toward the Quarry seemingly anxious just to get the ride over with.

I was in tight and up close to Rainman, as we made the run to the bottom of the Quarry Climb. Too close, as a matter of fact. He jumped out of the saddle and there was that dreaded micro-pause as he suddenly stopped pedalling and his bike seemed to lurch back at me.

With a loud “bzzzzt” my front tyre butted his rear wheel and was flicked to the right. I twitched it back, through a more prolonged “bzzzzt, zzzzt”  as I  brushed his tyre again, but this time going in the opposite direction. Then he was pulling clear, I steadied the bike, breathed a sigh of relief and, still resolutely upright, on we went.

The top of the Quarry climb was the designated point for everyone to coalesce before splitting into fast and slow, short and long rides. Most of us though had seen quite enough of the foul weather and decided to cut the ride short and head straight for the cafe.

G-Dawg said he would hold back to meet up with the others, while Caracol, Ovis and a few other brave and hardy souls decided to complete the full ride.   

I was left alone with lots of big, powerful and fast units. Oh and Kermit. Jimmy Mac, Rainman, the Cow Ranger and Baby Doc began driving the pace up and up as we closed on the cafe.

I hung on with a bit of late braking and tight cornering, even hitting the front on the grind up to Wallridge Crossroads in a show of ill-conceived bravado. I was helped in my task by members of the local hunt, ambling their mounts up and down the road and causing the racing peloton to briefly slow and give the sometimes skittish horses a wide berth.

As the final sprint wound up I was on Kermit’s wheel until he decided he’d had enough, eased and dropped away. By the time I’d rounded him the gap had blown wide open and there was no closing it, so I rolled into the cafe on my own.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Talking about my touch of wheels, the Cow Ranger declared that, “it caused a ripple through the entire peloton.”

“Well, it caused a ripple through my entire colon, too,” I offered.

Riders kept pitching up to drop new, wet articles on top of the pile of discarded hats, gloves, caps and buffs already laid in a steaming pile on top of the stove. Rainman played Mother, deftly flipping gloves and hats like the world’s best short-order cook, ensuring they were evenly toasted on both sides and encouraging their wet dog smell to pervade the entire cafe.

Kermit, with access to the stove blocked by our “Frying Dutchman”™ took to drying his hat on over his teapot, which wore it like a bad, cycling tea cosy – perhaps something Rapha would make and sell for a small ransom.

His cap was soon steaming briskly and I wondered how he was going to explain away a scalded scalp when he arrived at A&E, having clapped it onto his head without letting it cool slightly.

Then, of course, because I was surrounded by a bunch of medical types, they started to regale us with all the odd insertions they’d recovered from their patients body cavities and all the convoluted excuses used to explain them, such as one unfortunate trying to justify to the Cow Ranger how they accidentally ended up with a toilet brush firmly wedged up their rectum – bristle end first.

Jimmy Mac recalled one particularly delicate operation to remove a broken Coke bottle from an anal passage, after which the medical team were challenged by the supervising surgeon to explain why the patient had used a Coke bottle. 

After a few minutes of rejecting all their wild and inaccurate medical  and anatomical speculation, it was revealed that the correct answer was, “because he couldn’t get 7-Up.” This, I think just goes to show that even the most elevated and refined amongst us aren’t immune to the allure of bad Dad jokes. 

Across the next table a fellow cyclist was brought a plate of steaming poached eggs on toast and a suddenly interested Kermit wondered if he’d be allowed to drop his cap over them, to help dry it out a little more.

I then pulled my buff back on and Kermit told me it made me look like Eton-and Oxford educated, Tory Euroseptic (sic) and Bullingdon Club Grand Poobah, the privileged, bigoted, supremely condescending and quite abhorrent, Jacob Rees Mogg. Kermit, you complete and utter bastard. I. Hate. You.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Mac wondered why everyone seemed so keen to set their gloves to smouldering on the wet stove. “I think cold and wet is much more preferable to warm and wet,” he declared.

I wondered if this was a general life choice, or only extended to water-logged articles of cycle clothing. He defended his position by referring to the phenomena of boiling water freezing much quicker than cold water, arguing you’d be chilled quicker in warm wet gloves, than in just wet gloves.

Often referred to as the “Mpemba Effect” – Jimmy Mac explained that the most likely explanation for this was “entropy.” I was in no position to argue and took him at his word. (Trying to read up about it later, I would be defeated by the sentence, “hydrogen bonds are weaker than covalent bonds but stronger than the van der Waals forces that geckos use to climb walls” – so let’s just leave it there and go for entropy as an adequate enough explanation, ok?)

“See,” Jimmy Mac declared, “I think we’ve genuinely raised the level of cycling club talk to a whole new, stratospheric, super-enlightened height.”

A few breaths later and we were back discussing the value of waterproof socks and neoprene overshoes. I looked across at Jimmy Mac and mimed a plane nose-diving into the ground. Well, he’d tried.


At the cafe early, we set off for home early, in the same small group, again ramping the pace up for the first few miles, just to try and warm up. At the Kirkley junction, I swung away for route through Ponteland and past the airport, making a bee-line for home and not even considering my usual short-cut which grants me quieter roads, in return for a bit more climbing.

As I dropped down toward the river, the valley floor was shrouded in low, wet and clinging cloud – ideal conditions for the dozens of crews scattered across the Tyne? Maybe not.

The same, thick, wet fog served to decapitate part of the Heinous Hill, but I sadly knew it was an optical illusion and the road still dragged all the way up to the top. Despite carrying perhaps an extra 4 or 5lbs in excess water in my sodden clothing, I managed the climb reasonably well, spurred on by thoughts of a hot shower, although dreading the pain it would bring as the blood flooded back into my frozen extremities.

Before disappearing to scream like a girl in the shower, I discarded  a pile of  water-logged outer kit on the tiles in front of the washing machine. It looked as if someone had caught the Wicked Witch of the West in our kitchen, poured a bucket of cold, dirty water over her head and watched her dissolve until there was nothing left but a puddling heap of sad and sodden, dirty clothes on the floor.

So, not the most pleasant of rides, still it had its moments and was suitably entertaining despite everything. Hopefully things will be better when we give it another go, next week.


YTD Totals: 6,936 km / 4,310 miles with 84,684 metres of climbing

Half Man Half Mudlark

Half Man Half Mudlark

Club Run, Saturday 24th November, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:96km/60 miles with 981 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 2 minutes
Average Speed:24.3 kph
Group Size:24, 0 FNG’s
Temperature:8°C
Weather in a word:Chill

Ride Profile

I missed last week due to a lingering chest infection, but felt I’d just about recovered enough to get back in the saddle, albeit running at around three-quarters optimum efficiency and accompanied by a hacking cough.

Saturday morning turned out to be murky, misty and foggy, first thing and I was pleased to be well-bundled up in my thickest base layer, winter jacket, rain jacket, thermal socks, buff, headband, gloves  and glove-liners, as I dropped down the hill, buffeted by a chill wind.

Turning along the valley, I tracked, but couldn’t catch, a fellow rider, marked by the wan, ghostly glow of bare legs, as much as by the tell-tale flicker of red lights on his bike and helmet. Once again I am humbled by how inured some North East riders seem to be to the biting cold. Perhaps I’m just a wimp.

I was on-time to be held-up at the level crossing by the 8:15 Blaydon to Hexham train, otherwise it was a standard and uneventful ride across to the meeting place.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Taffy Steve told me I’d missed another massive turnout of near on 40 riders last week. Speculation about whether this was due to OGL’s pre-announced absence remain just that, purely speculative, but that’s 2 bumper winter rides in the pace of a month and quite unusual behaviour. Perhaps this is a cyclists response to climate change?

Part of the high turnout seemed to revolve around the Monkey Butler Boy’s Wrecking Crew, who had congregated to ride with us part way, before scuttling away to do their own thing.  The Red Max mentioned Taffy Steve had been bewildered by this troupe of Monkey Butler Boy clones (have I spelt that right? – I’m sure there’s mean’t to be a ‘w’ in there somewhere) – who all shared a certain, raw-boned hungry look, in their all matching, carefully coordinated kit. I suspect William Golding might have found them an endless source of inspiration.

I couldn’t help recalling the moment I first encountered this particular subgenus in the café garden, as they swarmed around a bike, pointing and jabbering excitedly at this, that or the other, before moving on to the next bike to repeat the process and then the next and then the next…

The Garrulous Kid wanted to now why ever-present G-Dawg wasn’t present. “It’s not 9 o’clock yet,” Crazy Legs replied laconically.

“But, it’s nearly 9 o’clock,” the Garrulous Kid answered.

“Yes, but it isn’t 9 o’clock.”

“So, what time’s it now?” Crazy Legs asked after a short while.

“It’s just turned 9 o’clock, official Garmin Muppet Time,” someone replied, glancing down at their Garmin.

“See!” Crazy Legs nodded to where G-Dawg was pulling up, on cue and bang on time, his internal navigation, vectoring protocols and automated targeting systems, whirring and clicking away with mechanised efficiency.  

We were all hugely impressed by the Red Max’s lights, especially the one on the front of his bike, a common or garden, Pifco torch,  mummified in swathes of  gaffer tape that strapped it directly to the underside of his stem. This, the Red Max explained was purely for the Wednesday night chain-gangs, which is the only bit of riding he does in the dark, so he didn’t see the need for actual bike lights with a proper mounting.

The Red Max broke of our conversation to clamber up onto the wall and outline the route. “Hello,” he began, “For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Richard and this is the route for the day …”

He then apologised for selecting a rather standard, regular, run-of-the-mill ride, without even any variation in the direction we were running the different segments.

“That’s fine, ” I told him, “If we run another route widdershins, we’ll just end up summoning the devil.”

Two groups were agreed, with a more or less equal split of the numbers and off we went.


I rolled out in the second group, not looking for anything too fast and frenetic and hoping to get through the ride without inducing a mammoth coughing bout.

I fell in alongside Crazy Legs as we rolled out, principally tasked with helping him decipher the lyrics to a Half Man Half Biscuit song that was rattling around in his brain.



It was undeniably chilly out on the roads and I could feel my toes slowly turning numb. As we followed the Red Max out and up Limehouse Lane, I plaintively asked if there was a café nearby. I was only half-joking, but let’s just say the opportunity for the inaugural Winter 2018 Flat White ride didn’t fall entirely on barren soil.  

Crazy Legs suggested a early coffee intervention at Matfen, so we did our stint on the front and pulled the group through to Stamfordham, before turning off the planned route for a shortcut to caffeine succour.

Sneaky Pete joined us and for a moment our desperate trio were united in a co-ordinated bout of coughing, so we sounded like the TB wing of the club, or desperate refugees at the Mexican-US border breathing in a very minor form of tear gas. (Very safe.)

For a time I pushed on at the front alongside Sneaky Pete, with Crazy Legs running along behind and between us, declaring rather contentedly, “It’s nice back here.” 

A few turns along wet and muddy roads though and he became suspiciously solicitous, asking how I was feeling and suggesting I needed a spell off the front. I let him through and he immediately explained he was ok riding behind me, but for some reason Sneaky Pete’s (almost identical) mudguard was spraying him with road crud, so one side of his body was pristine, clean and dry, the other splattered and speckled with mud.

Leading from the front, Crazy Legs guided us unerringly to the hidden jewel of Matfen village store, complete with its own café  and one of those huffing, spluttering, gurgling, steaming, barrista-wrangling, coffee machines, where we went for flat whites all around.

Damn fine coffee.


Main Topics of Conversation – Coffee Stop#1

We decided the the Flat White Club needed a President to promote its life-affirming, ride enhancing, cold alleviating properties and duly proposed, seconded and elected Taffy Steve to the role … in his absence.

We then worked out an impressive number of Flat White ride options, which included potential coffee interludes at Kirkley Cycles, Matfen, the Gubeon, Belsay, Capheaton and Bolam Lake.

Sneaky Pete impressed me with his adoption and familiarity with the Apple Pay digital wallet, something Crazy Legs had recommended to him. I was overwhelmed by his all round tech savvy  and acuity and felt there was hope for us Luddite’s yet …

Then he went and spoiled by becoming the only person in living history to lament the demise of (the dreadful!) Freeserve internet and email service.


Suitably warmed through and refreshed, we left the café  just as our front group charged through the village and swung away up the hill. We were almost, almost, perfectly placed just to drop onto the back, but they were travelling just a little too fast and we would have needed to have left the
café  about 30 seconds earlier to tag on without a supreme effort.

Not to worry, we saddled up and followed as they made their way to the Quarry, at which point they picked the pace up and we wouldn’t see them again until we made the café .

The three of us pushed on anyway, and arrived just behind the front group to join the back of a ridiculously long queue that stretched w-a-a-a-y back.


Main Topics of Conversation – Coffee Stop#2

“Bloody hell! I thought you had a full head of hair under that helmet,” Crazy Legs couldn’t help exclaiming, as we tagged onto the back of the queue, just behind the Ticker, sans helmet. Smooth.

Meanwhile Sneaky Pete carefully assessed the length of the queue, carefully assessed the  likely delay and issues he’d cause by being devoted technocrat,
right on the cutting-edge of digital payment systems and wielding Apple Pay with confidence and impunity. He then, wisely decided he’d rather head for home than challenge the antiquated, antediluvian staff and their convoluted and tortuous till system. So, he sneaked away. 


Oh mi corazón! For reasons unknown, Crazy Legs started singing the Clash song, Spanish Bombs, before declaring the ride had done him a world of good and helped him clear his chest. “I’ve howked up a right load of crap,” he declared happily.

I commended him, not so much on the therapeutic  benefits of the ride, but on his use of a good Geordie word I haven’t heard for years. Howk – a wonderfully onomatopoeic word, suggesting something that’s physically clawed out and expelled violently – most often used in the context of brutal and fierce expectoration.

We finally got served and seated, although not without a few problems with Crazy Legs’ own digital wallet, which needed several attempts to work and proved Sneaky Pete, as well as being an early-adopter, was both prescient and perspicacious.

These travails with digital payments also sadly revealed that we were in a wi-fi black spot, so Crazy Legs couldn’t share the video of creepy, distasteful and oleaginous MP, Michael Gove slipping  and falling on his arse in Downing Street.

It seemed I then only had time to briefly rib the Garrulous Kid for asking what was happening next Fursday, before we were collecting our kit and heading out again.


A decent pace was set for the run home and I found myself on the front as the majority peeled-off left. I accelerated and pushed straight on, into the Mad Mile, expecting at any minute to be passed by a flying G-Dawg and Colossus, racing to be first home and into the shower. But, somehow, I reached my turn-off still leading the group and swung away for home.

Hmm, perhaps the 10-mile less than normal I’d covered on the day, the relatively modest pace, or lack of full-blooded cafe sprint, made all the difference and meant I was fresher than usual and able to hold off any challenges from those behind?

Or, more likely, G-Dawg and the Colossus had already negotiated first use of the shower via a complex, rock-paper-scissors style-challenge and were just cruising home now on autopilot. We’ll never know.

Like my run in, my return was delayed at the level crossing, this time by a train running the opposite way, from Hexham to Blaydon. Still, I was in no hurry, the weather was fine, I felt pretty decent and, like Crazy Legs, I think the run out had actually helped with the chest infection.

That means next week it’s back to the full distance, full-blooded cafe sprint and being ritually expelled, or even howked,  from the back of the group at the end of the Mad Mile.

Unless, of course, someone suggests a Flat White Ride…

Anyone?


YTD Totals: 6,787 km / 4,217 miles with 83,107 metres of climbing

Many a Muckle

Many a Muckle

Club Run, Saturday 3rd November, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                 106 km / 66 miles with 1,212 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                         4 hours 30 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.6 km/h

Group size:                                        38+

Temperature:                                   14°C

Weather in a word or two:          Back to balmy


Many a muckle
Ride Profile


Or to be more precise, mony a mickle maks a muckle, but why let accuracy stand in the way of a good headline …

Our weird fortnightly weather cycle was once again bang-on, last weeks extremes of snow and ice and rain replaced by a temperate, bright and breezy day.

As I dropped off the hill, I spotted a group of 5 or 6 other riders ahead and was (naturally) compelled to give chase. My pursuit was somewhat hampered when the traffic lights intervened between us, just outside Blaydon. As I tried to regain lost momentum, another rider whipped past with a bright and breezy, “Morning!”

This was a Muckle C.C. rider, travelling at high speed and wearing shorts and a short-sleeved jersey. It was warmer than last week, but shorts and a short-sleeved jersey? Perhaps he needed to ride that fast just to keep warm?

I thought he might have been chasing to join onto the group upfront, but he blew straight past them as well. A man on a mission.

As he disappeared up the road, I caught the others as they turned down toward the bridge, sitting in the wheels, until they crossed the river and swung left, while I turned right to pick my way through to the meeting point.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:

G-Dawg pondered if the Garrulous Kid’s ride last week had perhaps been the shortest in club history, following his abandonment in a blizzard of sleet just as outside Dinnington.

“What was it,” he pondered, “All of about eight miles?”

The Garrulous Kid himself was better prepared today, on his winter bike with mudguards and the added protection of overshoes. He’d survive better this time out.

Just.

Princess Fiona recounted her epic Ironman Ironwoman Ironprincess experiences which, she concluded, she’d thoroughly enjoyed, despite feeling sick for 5-days afterwards. Apparently this post-event illness is a common occurrence. Throughout her recounting the Colossus looked on in disbelief and mute horror, utterly convinced he was in the presence of someone needing psychiatric help.

On his fixie again, G-Dawg’s new bell drew some attention, with Jimmy Mac finding it rather melodic and pleasing, polite and not insistent. Then he ruined all his good work by comparing it to something he expected to hear on a creaky old sitcom, although he couldn’t quite decide if it belonged on “Open All Hours” or “Are You Being Served?”

For some unbeknown reason, today was building up to be the most popular ride of the year and I kept revising the headcount as more and more rolled in. It was up to over 30 by the time Crazy Legs started outlining the route and he suggested a split start with a re-grouping just before tackling the Mur de Mitford.

He was interrupted by a big bloke on a mountain bike trying to find a way through the dozens of riders and bikes sprawled across the pavement and bellowing for us to make way.

“He needs a nice polite bell,” someone suggested.

Yes, well, I don’t think he did polite.

I counted a decent  15 or 16 heading for the front group, so hung back. In theory this was an equitable split, I just hadn’t counted on people continuing to roll-up right until the moment we left and then, more joining us en route. By the time it all shook out the second group was still about 24 strong.


I dropped in behind Taffy Steve and Crazy Legs as we set out, chatting with Sneaky Pete, who insisted there was a very thin line between being committed and needing to be committed. He thought last week’s ride, given the conditions, crossed this threshold and verged into insanity. I couldn’t really disagree, but countered that, despite everything, it had actually been thoroughly entertaining.

As we passed through Dinnington and swept down the hill, I noticed my camera wobbling somewhat precariously. Deciding the bolt might have worked a little loose, I gave it a quick tug to test it. Sure enough, it had worked loose. I was left foolishly brandishing the bolt as it came away in my hands and the camera clattered and bounced away down the road.

I swung over and back-tracked to where Caracol had stopped to pick up the camera, shoved it in a back pocket and then we gave chase, latching back onto the group in short order. Caracol had been one of the riders joining just as we left the meeting place, and had pushed our numbers on the day close to 40.

We made our way past the Cheese Farm, picking up yet another rider behind us. As we approached Bell’s Hill, he nudged forwards to have a chat and we discovered he wasn’t one of ours.

“What club’s this?” he wondered, obviously somewhat bewildered to encounter such a big pack.

I told him and he nodded up toward the middle of the group where OGL was toiling away alongside Brink.

“Ah, should have guessed … seeing him.”

As he said this, I realised that, despite the rather magnificent turnout, there was only one rider amongst us displaying a club jersey. There’s something wrong, somewhere.

“You don’t usually travel in such a large group,” he mused and was even more nonplussed when I told him we’d actually split into two and there was another motley bunch of us further up the road.

Our new back-marker proved to be another Muckle C.C. rider, although he mentioned he was also involved  in the administration of the (relatively new and hugely successful) NTR (North Tyneside Riders.)

“This is your chance,” I urged him, as we approached the bottom of Bell’s Hill, “Attack now and you’ll be able to get past.”

“But you have to do it sitting down, looking cool and barely breathing,” Caracol joked.

“I definitely can’t manage that,” our Muckle rider responded, but took our advice anyway. It was either that, or sit at the back, confined to our pace, until he could find somewhere to turn off.

He worked his way smartly up the outside on the climb and then disappeared over the top. Before we crested the rise, he was followed by yet another lone Muckle rider. They seemed to be everywhere today.

I took the opportunity of the climb to reposition myself in the middle of the pack, just before our ride was interrupted by shouts of what everyone took to be a puncture. The group pulled to a stop in a lay-by, while I turned back to see what was happening.

I met the Cow Ranger coming the other way and he told me someone had punctured, but was really struggling anyway, so had decided to pack in. We rejoined the others, who’d taken the opportunity for an impromptu pee stop and tried to work out who it was that had abandoned.

“A Spanish guy,” the Cow Ranger informed us, ” He was really struggling to keep up, so has decided to call it a day.”

“Tomás?” I enquired, “Swedish-Spanish guy, on an old steel frame?” confusedly thinking about Toledo Tom, our very own colinabo, who is so strong I couldn’t possibly envisage him struggling, even in the last throes of a dire battle with the Black Death.

“Well, Spanish guy on a steel frame, definitely,” the Cow Ranger suggested a little hesitantly.

I was still disbelieving, “Tall, thin, fast?”

“Nope, no, nah, definitely not any of them.”

OGL confirmed that Toledo Tom was in the front group and this was a different Spanish guy. Huh,  we have more than one? Hoodafunkedit.


mamuck


Off we trundled again, until, just past Tranwell, OGL led an early strike off toward the café, while the rest of us pushed on for a rendezvous with our front group, who had pulled up under the main A1 bridge and were waiting patiently.

From there we dropped down into the Wansbeck valley, following the river toward Mitford and the dreaded “Mur.” Oncoming traffic had us stacked up and stopped at the bottom of the hill, so it was a particularly unhelpful standing start, especially for G-Dawg on his fixie.

The lack of run-in momentum had him grinding painfully upwards and I hustled past as fast as I could, thinking I didn’t want to be in the firing line of all the bloody cartilage, sprung steel, wiry tendons, gears and other assorted shrapnel if his cyborg knees suddenly explode under the strain.

We had decided to split the group via natural selection on the climb and I was well-positioned in the front third as we pushed over the top.

More climbing followed, as we ran up through Hag’s Wood.  I was chatting to the Garrulous Kid … well, listening to the Garrulous Kid chatting away, while he rode on my inside. Then, there was a loud, rasping, zzzt-zzzt-zzzt and he suddenly disappeared.

He’d touched wheels with the rider in front and gone head over heels into a grass bank, threading the needle between two massive tree boles with what looked like expert precision, but was simply timely serendipity.

We waited for him to identify to pull himself up and conclude no permanent damage had been done, to bike or rider. He dusted himself down and away we went again.

A little later on, I caught up with him and he happily declared, “Well, I haven’t fallen off in ages!”

We were now tackling the Trench and I was climbing alongside Captain Black, who was bemoaning the fact that he was on his winter bike and we were now competing on a level playing field.

“I hate my winter bike!” the Garrulous Kid added, and once more we patiently explained that this was the entire point of owning a winter-bike.

Out of the Trench and heading toward Angerton and a notoriously exposed road over the moors, I was in the second group and hunting around for  some big bodies to shelter behind. I’d moved smartly up to follow Captain Black and G-Dawg as we turned into a headwind and the road began to climb, when disaster struck, G-Dawg punctured and waved us all through. Despite all my machinations I found myself on the front and leading the second group on the drag up and around Bolam Lake.

As we started our run for the café, Captain Black took over and injected a bit of pace, driving us up over the rollers and down the other side. I pulled up alongside him on the final drag and he shook his head and declared himself “done in.” Fair enough, I was more than happy to give the sprint a miss today. The Garrulous Kid flailed around us and launched himself off the front and no one blinked, there was no reaction and no attempt to chase, as we rolled the rest of the way to the café behind him.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

With around 40 of us, other cyclists and the usual gathering of civilians, the café was full to bursting and late arrivals couldn’t get a seat and ended up eating and drinking where they stood.

I found a small space in the corner alongside Biden Fecht and the Garrulous Kid, pressed up close to the fire. It was hot, but at least it was a seat – a hot-seat if you like.

The Garrulous Kid has had his first offer of a place at university and was already anticipating Freshers. I wondered which part he was looking forward to the most, getting so hog-whimperingly drunk he endangers his own life, bobbing for apples in a bucket of stale urine, or having his head shaved? (Of course, dear reader, this type of initiation “hazing” never actually happens at British universities these days.)

He’s also planning which societies he can get involved him. I tried to warn him off the Rubik’s Society by claiming they were all square (sorreee!) and suggested he take up falconry instead. He looked at me as if I was mad and had just invented the ancient and noble art of hunting with birds of prey simply to trick him. I don’t know if that says more about him, or me.

OGL wandered past and deposited a old race programme for the 1952 Beaumont Trophy on the table. I eyed it warily, like a discarded perfume bottle filled with Novichok. Enticing as it was, I was determined not to go anywhere near it, as I didn’t want the responsibility of making sure this ancient and venerable piece of club history made it back to its rightful owner unsullied.

Biden Fecht did dare a quick look, before swiftly passing it on and was seemingly intrigued by some of the club names, all the Wheeler’s and Couriers, as well as the grandly named VC Electric.

Biden Fecht liked the old style, traditional “Wheelers” as a club name – some of those, such as the Whitley Bay Wheelers no longer exist, but the nearby,  Ferryhill Wheeler’s (founded in 1926) appear to be still going strong. ( I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I like Clarion as a club name and the Sunderland Clarion trace their club back even further, to the late 1800’s!)

Sadly, many of the clubs in the programme, and that I grew up with, appear to no longer be around, including VC Electric, the Cleveland Couriers, Tyne Road Club, the Northern Couriers and possibly (if their dormant webiste is anything to go by) even the venerable Tyne Velo. Sic transit gloria.

(The Garrulous Kid wanted reassurance that some of our long standing, club miffs held at least a grain of truth, but I told him we had no interest in Dutch rabbits.)


Unplanned, but perhaps for the best, we left the café a handful at a time and I joined a group spearheaded by Taffy Steve and the Cow Ranger.

They completed their stint at the front as we approached Ogle and I took over alongside Biden Fecht. As we “boolled” along we had a chat about the general desire for some kind of reform within the club and even (shock# horror#) the seemingly far-fetched notion of evolving from an autocracy (some might even say dictatorship) to a democracy.

As someone spending a lot of time shuttling between Newcastle and Aberdeen, Biden Fecht was happy to volunteer to be the clubs representative in Northern Scotia, while I suggested I could be the Warden of the Southern Marches, or all the empty, barren and dangerous lands to the south of the River Tyne, where the club is ever afraid to venture.

One thing we did both agree on, neither of us wanted to be the Keeper of the Stool.

We dragged the group through Kirkley and to the top of Berwick Hill, before Biden Fecht suggested we let someone else batter themselves into the wind. I agreed and we pulled over and waved the next pair through, only at the last minute realising one of these was Plumose Pappus.

“Oh no, we’re not going to be popular,” Biden Fecht observed and true enough, Plumose Pappus hit the front and immediately drove up the pace.

Everyone hung tough until the sharp rise into Dinnington, where Plumose Pappus dropped the hammer, putting in a searing acceleration that splintered the group apart. A small, select knot formed up front and, as the road levelled and straightened, it began to pull away.

Aether tried to bridge across, into the headwind and failed.

Captain Black tried to bridge across, into the headwind and failed.

Princess Fiona tried to bridge across, into the headwind and failed.

I tried to bridge across, into the headwind and failed.

Caracol tried to bridge across, into the headwind and failed.

At the last, Kermit managed to bridge across, but no on could go with him.

Thwarted, we settled into our own little group and pushed on anyway and I followed Caracol’s wheel until everyone else swung away and I pushed on solo, through the Mad Mile and away home.


YTD Totals: 6,416 km / 3,987 miles with 78,593 metres of climbing

Fantastic Day

Fantastic Day

Club Run, Saturday 20th October, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  111 km / 69 miles with 1,116 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 22 minute

Average Speed:                                25.4 km/h

Group size:                                         27 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    17°C

Weather in a word or two:          Fantastic


 

fantastic
Ride Profile


What a gorgeous and glorious day.

As I rolled down the valley, the sun crept into clear space beneath a band of dark, low cloud and threw a ridiculously long, sharp shadow ahead of me, cartoonish, spindly legs whirring under a peanut body topped with a spiky pinhead.

The concentrated, liquid light tangled itself in all the fading, autumnal leaves on the trees, setting them aflame in a lambent, amber glow that looked like a photo someone had applied far too much contrast to.

It sho was purdy, though.

One of the more noticeable attributes of the Pug is its near silent running, the freewheel is mute, the chain makes a hushed, barely audible whisper and when the brakes and rims combine they are completely and oddly soundless. This combined with an eerie lack of traffic, let me pick out the buzzing of the power lines, a rustle of a small bird, or mammals in the hedgerow, the slap of water against the bridge piles as I crossed the river and the rhythmic, shouted commands of the stroke, as a 4-man boat shot the arches and slid smoothly out into open water.

My ride in was equally as smooth, calm and tranquil and I arrived a few minutes before my usual time, to find Crazy Legs uncharacteristically there before me and, even more unexpectedly, chatting with Szell. Szell is normally well into hibernation mode by now, but this year is seriously challenging to still be riding with us in November.


Main topics of conversation at the start

“I’ve been here fifteen minutes already,” Crazy Legs explained cheerfully, before revealing his enthusiasm was in no way related the arrival of house guests, which may, or may not, have given him the urge to vacate the house for a while.

G-Dawg rolled in with the Colossus and there was some discussion about the intended route, which Aether had posted-up, but Crazy Legs insisted had suddenly changed mid-week, while he was looking at it online. Aether arrived and was equally as adamant that the route was the same one he’d originally devised and he hadn’t tinkered with it at all.

“Woah,” I contributed, “I think we’ve been hacked by the Russians.” Imagining some sophisticated, Fancy Bears, cyber-espionage group from the GRU interfering with our group rides for their own nefarious purposes. I’m sure, if pressed OGL would blame the Chinese.

G-Dawg, Crazy Legs and Aether talked through the proposed route and all its various permutations, finally agreeing on one definitive version. Everyone seemed to be in accord, which was good, but I’m still no closer to knowing if, unlikely as it may sound, our group rides are an on-going, potential target for cyber-terrorists.

“Anyway,” Aether wondered, “Is orange the new club colour?” nodding at G-Dawg, Szell, the Colossus and Crazy Legs, who were all bedecked in various shades of orange.

There was then a quite unseemly spat, when Szell declared the particular shade of orange that Crazy Legs was wearing was  “girly.” This escalated into a surprisingly sophisticated, mature and philosophical discourse, punctuated by the trading of clever epithets and witty, barbs. Such as:  “you stink!” … “no, your mum stinks!” …etc.

Ignoring the squabbling children, G-Dawg informed us OGL probably wouldn’t be joining us for the ride as he’d been receiving treatment for a dodgy hip. Otherwise the good weather had enticed a sizeable mob of 27 guys and gals out for the day and we decided to split into two groups with a merge point agreed further along the route.

So, we split the group into two … or, to be more accurate, tried to split into two, but the front group was dwarfed by those holding back to ride in the second group. I pushed across to even up the numbers and one or two others were coerced into joining us.

At the lights G-Dawg did a quick headcount, we had 11, leaving 16 behind, it would have to do. “Just watch,” G-Dawg mused, “OGL will turn up late and everyone in the second group will suddenly stampede to join the first.”


Luckily it wasn’t to be and I pushed out alongside the Colossus and away we went, averaging a reasonable 17-18mph for the first 10 miles or so, before ceding the front to Captain Black and Richard of Flanders.

A little further on, we found ourselves being trailed by a massive, six-wheeled piece of heavy-duty farm equipment. Stopped by some temporary lights, we shuffled off to the side of the road to let this behemoth through ahead of us. It was too big to argue with.

The traffic lights reminded the Colossus of a game he used to play while travelling with his dad – “Would I Have Died?” – a vehicular take on Russian-roulette, where you imagine ignoring a red stop light and see if you would make it through to the other side without being obliterated by on-coming traffic.

The lights changed, the behemoth squeezed past and we followed. There was no traffic approaching from the other direction – this time we wouldn’t have died. So, that’s “Would I Have Died?” – I think you’ll agree it’s a fun game for all the family, but obviously not to be undertaken in real life (unless you’re Dutch or have Dutch leanings) – after all, you’ll only lose once.

We made it to the designated lay-by and pulled in to wait for the second group to catch up, chatting about tomorrows highly popular Muckle Open Hill Climb, where they had a field of over 100 riders and a range of creative prizes, including awards for the fastest time on a fixie, or MTB, biggest improvement from last year, a lantern rouge and spot prizes for 36th, 69th and 90th.

We felt deliberately being last would be a difficult challenge, but targeting a spot prize almost impossible – although that didn’t stop us pondering Byzantine plots to try and achieve it.

The second group rolled in and we briefly coalesced, before those wanting a shorter ride to the café were swinging away again.


titled 1


The rest pressed on, heading towards the reservoir and points beyond. I joined G-Dawg, Aether and Crazy Leg, darting across the Military Road ahead of everyone else and while we waited for the others to catch up, talk turned back to the planned route.

G-Dawg was disappointed Aether hadn’t “gone pro” and taped the route outline to his handlebars this time.

Reaching into his back pocket in a “Ta-Da!” moment though, Aether pulled out and brandished a sheet of paper, shaking it vigorously in the wind, like Chamberlain declaring peace in our time.

“I have a print-out of the route here.”

“Careful!” Crazy Legs advised, “If you lose that we could be lost for days!”

On we went, up through the back roads toward the village of Ryal, G-Dawg noted that the previously prolific loose chippings seemed to have been swept from the new road surface, perhaps by the rain, perhaps through the collective passage of Taffy Steve, catching them between his tyres and fork crown. We hoped that now he would finally be able to make it through without getting more stones jammed in his frame. As an added bonus, I hear he’s now also the proud owner of a fabulous new gravel path in his garden.

We were closing in on the Quarry Climb when Sneaky Pete ran his wheel through a pot and punctured, rolling to a stop. Crazy Legs waved the rest of the group on, while I dropped back with him to help out.

Sneaky Pete soon had the tube replaced and together we started wrestling the tyre back onto the rim. As we struggled with the last section, Crazy Legs leaned in to help, his thumb barely grazing the sidewall as the tyre popped suddenly into place.

“Your welcome,” he said distractedly, while gazing in awe at his newly revealed, super-powerful, “golden thumb”.

We tag-teamed the pump-work and soon had the tyre inflated to an acceptable pressure – well, for cyclists with severely challenged upper-body strength – potentially a massive, herculean and awe-inspiring 30 psi or so. It would (have to) do. Off we went again, now somewhat inexplicably singing “My Sharona” and then following up with “My Angel is a Centrefold.”

As we turned up toward the Quarry, Crazy Legs began relating a conversation with a younger work colleague, who had said two lines that Crazy Legs immediately recognised as a direct quote from the Talking Heads song, “Road to Nowhere.”

“Ah! A Talking Heads fan?” Crazy Legs had enquired.

“Eh? What?” the work colleague was just confused.

“Talking Heads? Road to Nowhere? You know David Byrne?”

“Nah, mate, haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about…”

Apparently this hadn’t been a clever quote, referencing a subversive, 80’s alternative rock group, but actual, real-life management speak, much to Crazy Legs’ disdain. Now though, he was struggling to remember what the offending lines were.

“I’m just guessing, but I bet it wasn’t ‘and you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack,’” I suggested.

“No, it wasn’t that,” Crazy Legs confirmed and immediately started singing, “And you may find yourself, living in a shotgun shack, and you may find yourself in another part of the world, and you may find yourself, behind the wheel of a large automobile …”

He paused a second …

“Hey! That’s not the Road to Nowhere.”

“Yeah, like I said, I bet it wasn’t ‘and you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack.’

And, to be fair, I was right.”

Much like our all-hands-to-the-pump, tyre-inflation approach, we tag-teamed the run-in too, taking turns to drive us onwards and were at the café in short-order, where, true gent that he is, Sneaky Pete insisted on paying for our coffee and cakes as a (wholly unnecessary, but thoughtful) thank you for our assistance in helping with his puncture.

Crazy Legs is already planning to carry a pocketful of tacks to drop in front of Sneaky Pete on the run into the café next week.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop

Orders secured, we ventured out into the garden to finds the rest of the mob enjoying what could potentially be our last outside café stop of 2018.

Here we found Szell and I learned that he’s actually a restorative dentist and not, as I thought, an ex-Nazi intent of finding out “if it’s safe.” He then started on a mini-tirade, seemingly intent on insulting everyone at the table by association and the rest of the world by direct implication. Merchant bankers, teachers, Talking Heads, Lloyd Cole, the NHS, cosmetic surgery, dental veneers, C-list celebrities, reality television shows … it went on.

The rant seemed to be heading towards an all encompassing, scintillating climax, but I was heading toward coffee refills …

“Between inhuman looking lip implants and ridiculously artificial dental veneers, we’re on the cusp of …” Szell pontificated, but sadly (or, maybe gladly?) I didn’t manage to catch what exactly it was that we were on the cusp of. At that point in time, additional caffeine intake seemed much more important than learning the horrendous fate of civilised society.

Crazy Legs had removed his helmet to reveal a bad case of fungal cap – his Bianchi casquette, spotted and dotted with patches of mould. This, he determined was either a result of storing the cap in his garage, or perhaps, he suggested the proof that as we get older, we start to exude fungus …

This was the cap Crazy Legs had bought after I’d harangued him to replace his previous, wonky-brimmed effort, by suggesting it made him look like the village idiot. Naturally then, the demise of his current, fungal cap was all my fault.

“Anyway, I don’t know who made you the arbiter of taste,” he concluded. To be fair, neither did I.

Loud and persistent barking drew our attention to the distant hills and eventually a pack of hounds were to be seen tearing across an open field and presaging the arrival of the local hunt. There was obviously no fox, but the Colossus did suggest the leading hound was an odd russet colour and seemingly had a distinctly bushy tail…

The hounds were soon followed by the local horse-faced toffs on their very, very big, very, very expensive, horse-faced horses. We were just happy they didn’t seem to be heading our way

Meanwhile, Aether set his own, metaphorical, fox running amongst the hounds, when he politely enquired of a late arriving OGL, if now was perhaps a timely opportunity for the club to break with long-established tradition and fully-embrace the 18th century and the glorious emancipation of mankind … by holding an AGM for club members. Radical, audacious, revolutionary, I know and, much like the hunt, just as likely to see the fur flying.


We set out for home, somehow split into different groups and I joined one that had become intermingled with the Back Street Boys. When the inevitable attack went on Berwick Hill, I let it go and found myself trailing Captain Black, content to ride at my own pace.

He glanced back, “Ah, you’re obviously suffering from winter-bikitis,” he remarked. I explained that I hadn’t even thought about it and just picked out the Pug from habit, missing a glorious opportunity for one last Holdsworth, carbon-hurrah and being perhaps the only one out on a winter bike.

“Tsk, tsk,” he chided, “Schoolboy error.” True enough. He then decided to show me what I was missing, accelerating smoothly away, while I clung (more or less) to his rear wheel, unable to take a turn on the front even if I’d wanted to. (I didn’t).

With the help of Captain Black’s motor-pacing, we began to close on a small knot of our riders who’d become detached from the Back Street Boys’ train. He dragged me across the gap and, when the majority swung away left, I was able to latch onto Spoons as we entered the Mad Mile.

With the Peugeot in full stealth-mode and giving its best impersonation of silent running, I’m not even sure he knew I was there and engaged in blatant wheel-sucking, until I popped out, waved him off and swung the opposite way around the roundabout for my solo ride home.

The rest of the ride back was as smooth and serene as the outbound trip. I was tired and in no hurry, so I got to enjoy the perfect weather – might as well make the most of it, it isn’t going to last.


YTD Totals: 6,124 km / 3,805 miles with 74,898 metres of climbing