The Puffin Ride

The Puffin Ride

Club Run, Saturday 9th November, 2019

Total Distance: 95 km/59 miles with 852 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 12 minutes
Average Speed: 22.6km/h
Group Size: 7 riders, 2 FNG’s
Temperature: 5℃
Weather in a word or two: Puffin weather?

Ride Profile

I wasn’t out last week, because, well … World Cup, baby! My work colleague, the bloke formerly known as Fat Dave, eruditely swayed my internal dilemma by arguing it had been 12 long years since the England rugby team last made a final, so I wasn’t likely to have this opportunity again until 2031, when I’d be … ulp … fast bearing down on my 70th birthday.

Apparently, in joining 12.8 million other disappointed TV-viewers, I’d missed a decent day for a bicycle ride, with an assortment of around 20 Celts, Continentals and hardened rugby-deniers out and about. It had obviously been a complete contrast to today, where, with temperatures hovering around freezing and the potential for ice on the roads, social media was already active with “should I ride?” queries.

Ride leader for the day, Benedict, had already peered outside and determined the conditions were marginal, at best. Meanwhile Aether was lobbying (apparently unsuccessfully) for a later start to give the sun a fighting chance, just time enough to eke out a little bit of warmth and reduce the likelihood of ice.

I’d stepped outside to pull the bike from the shed and immediately hustled back in, to change my thick base layer for the thickest I had. I pulled an old Castelli, long-sleeved, thermal jersey over this, topped it off with a winter jacket and stuffed a light rain jacket in my back pocket for god measure. I wasn’t expecting rain, but felt an extra windproof layer might be useful.

Shorts under winter tights, disco headband, buff, glove liners, thick gloves, trusty Thermolite socks, shoes and shoe covers and I felt I was just about good to go.

So I did.

I rolled slowly down the hill, looking for any signs of ice creeping out from the gutters, while carefully avoiding the wet and slippery mass of yellow leaves that lined the road.

Halfway down and the world suddenly turned white, as I passed into a thick, still and smothering shroud of freezing fog, that appeared to have been poured into the valley bottom. I checked my lights were on and blinking away furiously, as I slipped silently into this dim and clinging mist.

The windscreens of all the cars parked up on the side of the road were opaque with thick feathers of ice, while the grass was frozen stiff, white and curled up protectively. The cold struck at my fingers and toes and any area of exposed flesh on my face and I began to wonder if perhaps I needed further layers on top of my layers. It was chilly.

I don’t know if the stillness of the air played a part, but the Blaydon roundabout stank of spilled diesel. I couldn’t help channelling my inner Colonel Kilgore, but luckily no one was around to overhear my mad mutterings:

“Smell that? You smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. The smell, you know, that gasoline smell? It smells like … victory. Someday this war’s gonna end…”

2℃ the readout on the factory unit told me, as I crossed the train lines, before taking to the empty pavement to defy the traffic lights and cross the river without waiting. The bridge seemed to be floating in mid-air and if any rowers had been out I wouldn’t have spotted them through the opaque, milky whiteness that obscured the river surface.

Climbing out the other side of the valley, the transition was just as sudden, misty-fog giving way to clear, bright air between one pedal stroke and the next.

A cold but brilliant sun now bounced off the wet road, turning intermittent spots of diesel into shining, metallic-rainbow coloured blooms. I was obviously following a badly wounded bus and, with a little better knowledge of routes, I could probably have identified it from the tell-tale trail it had left in its wake and tracked it all the way back to its lair.

Distractions aside, I arrived at the meeting place at the usual time to find a solitary G-Dawg standing and waiting astride his fixie. We agreed we were likely to have a very small group defying the bitter cold to ride today.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting place:

While we waited to see who else was stupid brave enough to be out, we compared notes on the rugby. Neither of us had been remotely surprised by the result and we agreed the most deserving team had won on the day.

And, moving swiftly on …

We were eventually joined by Alhambra, OGL and two relatively new guys, lets call them Cowboys and Bison for now … just, because.

Alhambra won the prize for having the filthiest, mud-spattered bike and was immediately taken to task by OGL.

He did a quick, comedy double-take and tried on an astonished expression. “I swear it was clean when I left the house.”

No one was buying and he finally admitted he’d been so busy decorating at home, he’d never gotten around to the part of his to-do list that included cleaning his bike.

OGL was leant on for an extended discourse on the different through-axle options for disc wheels, as Bison is in the process of buying a new bike. At least he didn’t physically have to do anything, although it remains quite a popular option for someone to turn up with this, that, or the other wrong with their bike and needing some expert tinkering with.

G-Dawg expected that sooner or later someone would take this to the ultimate extreme and walk to the meeting place carrying an unrideable bike, before demanding OGL laid healing hands on it, to make everything work again.

Zardoz was the last to join us, making up a slightly less than magnificent seven. That looked like being it for the day.

A couple of minutes past our usual departure time, with no more joiners likely, we discussed ride options and decided to stick to main roads and bus routes that we hoped would be gritted and ice free, then off we went.


I pushed out onto the front with G-Dawg. It was a largely still day, so I held position for most of the ride. One benefit of this, I found when I got home, was a pristine, completely clean jacket, lacking the usual spots and dots of road grime picked up from the filthy, wet roads when riding amongst wheels with variable mudguard coverage.

Speaking of which, OGL wondered if anyone else had seen the “10 best winter bikes” feature on one of the inter-webby sites that cyclists are supposed to follow. Much to his amusement every other “winter” bike recommended had a carbon fibre frame and, more astonishingly, not a single one was shown with mudguards. Evidently these were designed for the South of France, not the harsh realities of a North East winter.

It was still decidedly chilly once we’d left the exotic micro-climate of the transport interchange centre bus station behind us, but, try as we might, we couldn’t find any ice and, all in all, if you got the protection right, it was a pleasant day for a ride.

G-Dawg was happy just to be able to wear his quilted and heavily insulated bike jacket again, something so warm, he reckons conditions only warrant its use just once or twice a year.



There were no Flat White adherents out with us and it wasn’t cold enough to impose UCI/Flat White extreme weather protocols, so we passed by the cafe at Kirkley Cycles with nothing more than a wistful glance and kept going.

At Whalton about 30km into the ride we called a halt to ponder our route options. This gave Bison a chance to spot the defibrillator inside an old-fashioned red phonebox and idly wonder if it could transmit a shock powerful enough to restore feeling to his toes.

OGL set course straight to the cafe, while the rest of us took on a loop to Bolam Lake, with Cowboys darting off the front as we took the hill out of the village.

“That’s a very early break for the cafe,” G-Dawg mused.

I assured him it was more likely just a desperate attempt to warm up, before I pushed up alongside Cowboys on the front.

At the lake, Zardoz decided it was still too early for us to head to the cafe, so we tacked on another few miles, before heading off for some much deserved coffee and cake.


Main topics of conversation at the Coffee stop:

Zardoz had been watching video of King Ted winning the Giro in 1974 and marvelled at the sheer grind and superhuman effort of climbing mountains with massive gears back in the day.

“Ah,” G-Dawg interjected, putting himself in the shoes of one of those prototypical hard-men racers, “Only 5 miles to the top of this mountain, so only another hour of this and then I can sit down again!”

OGL remembered the first time the cycling community were introduced to the compact, 34-tooth chainring that would allow almost anyone to spin up hills, rather than grunt, gurn and grind their way painfully upwards. The general consensus in the North East was that it would never catch on and it was really only for the most effete of poseurs.

“It didn’t help that they couldn’t work out whether it was supposed to go on the front, or the back of the bike.” G-Dawg quipped.

Talk of transgender cyclists, by way of Caster Semenya, led to G-Dawg realising he’d heard Pippa York on racing commentary, but had never actually seen her.

“You can still tell wee Bobby’s in there,” OGL said.

“Woah, that’s a bit personal,” Bison decided, “Anyway, you do know that size doesn’t matter, don’t you.”

Apparently it does though, as this led OGL and G-Dawg to recollect attending one of the Braveheart, Scottish Cycling dinners, alongside German track sprinter, the rather disproportionately shaped Robert Forstermann.

The 5’7″ tall Fostermann is renowned for having astonishing 34 inch thighs.

In circumference.

Each.

The chafing must be something awful and I argued he was the only person who could start a fire just by running down the street.

G-Dawg recalled the bizarre sight of stumbling into the Gents toilets only to find Robert Forsterman and a bunch of other pro-cyclists, lined up with their kecks around their ankles, comparing thigh girth.

OGL said that Forstermann had then appeared in a kilt, perhaps to more easily flash his famous thighs, possibly as a tribute to his hosts, or maybe because a visit to Scotland proved a eureka moment for a man for whom finding trousers that fit must be a real headache.

Talk of men in skirts and dresses reminded Zardoz of a Grayson Perry talk he’d recently heard. As well as being a ceramic artist of some repute, TV personality and cross-dresser, Perry is a keen mountain-biker who lauded the development of dropper seat posts, so he could choose to ride his bike in either cycling shoes, or wedges.

Zardoz reported that Perry has developed a whole routine about different cycling tribes, in which he suggests the term MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra) is a bit of a misnomer and he thinks PUFFIN is far more accurate, or in Perry’s words, Piss Ugly Fat Feckers in Nylon.

82-year old Russ Mantle got a name check for becoming the first person in the UK to cycle one million miles – the equivalent of completing this year’s Tour de France route over 470 times. On average, the redoubtable Mr, Mantle reports riding around 15,000 miles every year and is looking forward to his next million miles.


With that as inspiration, we set out to pad our own, much more modest mileage totals and make our way home, deciding to stick to our usual route, although we suspected the lane through to Ogle would be flooded.

The good news was the lane was dry, the bad news was that Cowboys picked up a puncture. While OGL conducted an FNG Masterclass in puncture repair, we stood around and did what we do best, providing a running commentary, talked a load of bolleaux and mercilessly taking the piss.

On the repair front, things were going well, until OGL went to retrieve his pump from his bike and couldn’t detach it from the bottle cage.

“It’s not going to budge, do you think the hose is long enough to stretch from there?” I queried.

“If not, he’s going to have to bench-press the entire bike over his head 50 or 60 times to work the pump and get some air into the tyre,” G-Dawg suggested.

Luckily, the pump was finally released and could be applied in the more traditional manner. Bison watched on intently, admitting he wouldn’t have a clue how to change a tube, but then again, it didn’t matter anyway, because he never carried any spares!

I look forward to the certainty of his future induction into our Hall of Shame, reserved for those cyclists who find themselves stranded by the side of the road without the means and wherewithal to repair a simple mechanical problem.

Back up and running, on we went and it wasn’t long before G-Dawg was towing me through the Mad Mile and I could strike out for home. The fog had burned off by the time I was dropping back into the valley. Unfortunately, so had any reserves of energy I had left, I was running on fumes and starting to seriously bonk. I know this, because my mind became obsessively fixated on Mars bars, confectionery I would never even consider buying under normal circumstances.

Fighting the urge to succumb to sugary-sweetness almost as much as I fought dwindling energy resources and the gradient, I crawled with glacial slowness up the Heinous Hill and finally home, somehow without any detours to the local shops for sustenance. A victory of sorts.


YTD Totals: 6825 km / 4,240 miles with 89,241 metres of climbing