On Saturday I completed my longest ride of the year while still managing to get home half an hour before I usually would. Logic dictates then that I must have been travelling at a faster rate than normal and a quick look at Strava confirms this.
I had in fact ridden a full 3.6km/h faster than my average across the past 7 rides, despite also taking in an above average1,173 metres of climbing. I’m pretty sure my bike manufacturer (were they still in business) would be delighted to claim this is entirely due to the carefully designed aerodynamic optimisation of the 13, which I’d switched to with the Holdsworth being temporarily hors de combat.
That though would be ignoring the much more obvious explanation that, overwhelmed by civic duty, I’d let myself be drawn into the first (faster) group and been dragged along at such a pace that even bookending my ride with a 20+ mile solo pootle from home and back still gave me a stupidly fast overall time.
So, a quick ride and a (very) quick update…
The day started in the normal way, with copious amounts of nonsense. Brassneck proclaimed he’d invested in a new, untried and untested saddle, with all the inherent risks involved in using it on a long maiden voyage should it prove uncomfortable. This (of course) led to a discussion of whether there was a potential opportunity to offer a bespoke saddle breaking-in service, using a bunch of … err, larger-boned blokes shall we say, to liberally baste your new saddle in ass juices and thoroughly tenderise it with their bashing and clashing buttocks.
Throughout this discussion Mini Miss looked on with only a slight trace of disgust – well, certainly less than the previous week when she’d been informed by OGL her special task for marshalling duties would be to cover “a large exposed manhole,” without ever receiving an adequate explanation of just whose man hole he was talking about.
It was at this point that things started to go a little awry. Aether briefed in the route, basically an elongated figure of eight running north and south, with Kirkley as the nominated cafe stop of the day. We had sufficient numbers to split into three groups, but could barely muster four for the first group, so along with fellow sacrificial pawns (prawns?) Alhambra and Richard of Flanders, I bumped down the kerb and added my weight to the numbers. What was I thinking?
I spent the first half of the ride catching up with Alhambra as we negotiated a whole series of temporary traffic lights before finally managing to find some more open roads. A brief shuffling of the pack saw G-Dawg on the front alongside a relative newcomer, a triathlete and all-around big unit intent on keeping the pace up. I slotted into second wheel behind the Big-U and alongside Homeboy, where I half-jokingly mentioned my disquiet at being in the front group, the one consolation being that at least I’d found the perfect body to shelter behind. Homeboy assured me I was in the right group, reminding me we were going to the cafe at Kirkley so being among the first to arrive was imperative if you wanted to avoid the interminable queuing. It was a fair point and surely worth a bit of suffering for.
The Big-U finally burned out G-Dawg and he ceded the front on a stiff incline heading out toward the Gubeon. I took his place and stayed there until we started to climb toward Dyke Neuk where I slid back to take things at my own speed, mindful we had a hatful of hateful other climbs to go.
The first was the long drag up to Rothley crossroads, followed by Middleton Bank, both somewhat eased with patches of new tarmac (but still hateful). We regrouped at the top of each and pressed on, quickly homing in on the cafe.
Naturally, the pace at the front got whipped up and I was at the back desperately trying to close gaps as we swept through the Kirkley Hall junction, powered round the bend … and were brought to a sudden stop by more temporary traffic lights.
“I hate these bloody lights,” Homeboy exclaimed.
“I love these bloody lights,” I countered, there was now no time to open up any big gaps on the last few hundred metres to the cafe, where we did indeed enjoy much better services than the rest of our group who trailled in several minutes behind.
As usual conversation was thoroughly randomised and the typical diet of stuff and nonsense. It ranged from whether “arse bones” was an acceptable term for your ischial tuberosity, or “sitz bones” (a term I can’t use without immediately thinking of Lolcats), through to further accusations that Lance Armstrong was guilty of mechanical doping (in addition to being illegally jacked up on numerous pharmaceutical compounds, I guess.)
And then we were away again and the pace was still high until the group turned left and I swung off toward home. So, that wasn’t too bad, I suppose, I survived and the first group could be handy if you want to get home a little earlier. Next week?
With the weather a few degrees warmer but essentially following the same pattern as last Saturday, it was a case of repeating last week’s successful layering strategy to get me through the chilly start and into the temperate/bordering on pleasant late morning.
One major difference though was the wind which had a real chill edge to it and was strong enough to seriously slow me down as I crossed the river and pushed on eastwards.
It also blew a tiny, black fly into my face and I watched helpless as it skated across my spec lenses, hung precariously balanced on the edge for the briefest moment, and then plunged into the corner of my eye.
This proved a painful distraction for the next few minutes, as I tried to furiously blink and wipe away the discomfort. The only good thing was it took my mind off the new stem I’d fitted to my bike and now found to be ever so slightly misaligned with my front wheel. It wasn’t physically affecting anything, but every time I looked down I had a weird sense of vertigo and it was making me feel nauseous. Luckily, despite the headwind, I was able to reach the meeting place with enough time to unbolt and realign my bars.
Funnily enough, just after fitting the new stem, the venerable Toshi San had asked how my Holdsworth “Reg” was these days and I’d rather off-handedly replied, “like Trigger’s broom.”
The character Trigger in the TV comedy Only Fools and Horses claims to have used the same broom for 20 years before revealing it has only “had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time.”
Thinking about it now though, that seems a much more accurate description than I intended, as the only original parts of the Focus Cayo I bought in, oh maybe 2014, are the front mech, the handlebars, brake calipers and 90% of the STI levers. Since then I’ve replaced the frame and fork for the Holdsworth (crash damage in 2016), had three stems, three seatposts, half a dozen saddles (still haven’t found one that suits me) at least 5 sets of wheels, one rear derailleur, two or three sets of pedals, new bottle cages and even new bar ends.
Add to this the usual consumables that wear out over time and need replacing: tyres, tubes, chains, cables, bar tape, cassettes, headsets, brake blocks, bottom brackets and whatnot and, at any point, could I legitimately claim to have a new bike?
This is the Ship of Theseus paradox, about which Plutarch asked if every single piece of wood on a ship was replaced over a number of years, was it still the same ship? This philosophical conundrum has perplexed the smartest of thinkers over the centuries, but being a cyclist of the n+1 persuasion, I can assert that it’s still the same bike – because at no point have I ever not wanted something newer and shinier.
But I digress …
Today marked the welcome return of the Famous Cumbria (Dave/Steve) not seen since the last time he rode off the front up the Trench and, despite our repeated shouts, sailed blithely past the left-hand turn at the top and disappeared. Now he had returned to us, potentially after circumnavigating the entire globe and it seemed only fitting that he had the opportunity to do it all again.
This was because Biden Fecht had planned today’s route to include a climb up the Trench in what otherwise seemed a random cut and paste of regularly traveled roads that would at least give everything a patina of freshness. This included a descent down “Curlicue Bank” (hint: not its real name) for the sole purpose of 5 minutes later climbing back up the Trench to pretty much where we started.
Just for a change, Biden Fecht also selected the seldom visited cafe at Bolam Lake for our coffee interlude, the “cabin the woods” offering plentiful seating, decently quick service (well, by cycling cafe standards) and excellent value for money, with the only major drawback being it was cash only, so back to carrying lots of jingly coins in your back pocket.
Still, as Taffy Steve observed, now we’ve freed ourselves of the shackles of always using the cafe at Belsay, we have a lot more variety in terms of routes (as well as coffee and cake offerings)
Meanwhile, G-Dawg and Jimmy Mac discussed last night’s rugby game, where the Newcastle team were decidedly dreadful. They determined that we were subject to the universal yet unwritten law that states that a city can’t have two professional sports teams doing well at the same time. Given this rule, it was obvious that with the football team being one of the form clubs in the Premiership, the rugby club has to suffer as a consequence – they can’t both be good.
“Hang on,” I interjected, “I remember it wasn’t so long ago when the rugby team and football team were both shite.”
“Oh, yeah,” G-Dawg acknowledged, “But that’s not against the rules.”
We got three reasonably similar-sized groups out and onto the road without too much trouble (for a change) and away we went.
It was a bit of a mish-mash of a route, but greater than the sum of its parts. It worked well and all was good. The third group I was travelling with passed the second group, held up by a puncture just past the Cheese Farm and, despite a lengthy stop at Dyke Neuk, they never seem to close and we wouldn’t see them again until the cafe stop.
As we left Dyke Neuk, Crazy Legs explained the next part of the ride was a long descent, solely to have a long climb back to more or less exactly where we’d just been.
“Well, that pretty much sums-up cycling, doesn’t it?” Goose replied sagely. No one disagreed and no one opted for the couple of hundred flat metres to the top of the Trench in lieu of the descent and subsequent climb.
We’d already impressed on the Famous Cumbrian that we would take the left-hand turn at the top of the Trench, just to make sure he didn’t miss it and ride off into the sunset again, but as we dropped down Curlicue Bank, I felt it was worth reinforcing our route for him.
“So, it’s first left at the top of the Trench,” I confirmed with Crazy Legs, loudly enough for the Famous Cumbrian to overhear.
“Yes. The very first left at the top of the climb,” Crazy Legs emphasised for clarity.
“Is this left turn easy to miss?” a puzzled Famous Cumbrian queried.
“Apparently,” I dead-panned. Well, I thought it was funny.
We made it to the top of the Trench without any difficulties and the Famous Cumbrian even made the left turn. We took the swoop and rise through Hartburn and then the left turn toward Angerton, where Crazy Legs celebrated the astonishing, potentially miraculous lack of headwind along this most notorious and most-exposed part of our route.
One last clamber and a very short descent later and we were at the cabin in the woods.
We then had one of those interludes where our rambling conversation didn’t have any particular focus, but it ceaselessly looped and bounced all over the place, while we all misheard or misremembered things. It was the kind of surreal conversation I imagine you might encounter in a particularly eccentric and fesity old people’s home where the inmates are stimulated by patchy recall and half-understood snippets of tabloid headlines.
It started when I asked about Crazy Leg’s sister. She’d been hospitalised for a week when chest pains were diagnosed as a suspected heart-attack, but it turned out the discomfort was simply due to muscle strain. Meanwhile, Crazy Legs himself has had the results of a recent blood test revealing high cholesterol. I don’t think he has any hope of a mis-diagnosis in this instance as he affirmed his recent diet has consisted primarily of chocolate, crisps and beer.
Somehow this led to Goose declaring that he’d been to Popeye’s village and we felt obliged to break the bad news to him that Popeye was in fact a fictional character. He was, of course, referring to the set of the Popeye movie which had featured Robin Williams, (not as Crazy Legs suggested Robbie Williams, which would have made it a whole different kind of film).
Whatever the merits of the film, or its set, I suggested the greatest thing about it was probably the near-perfect casting of the Olive Oyl character, although he couldn’t remember who the actress was. (It was not Olive Rudge from On The Buses as Crazy Legs helpfully suggested).
Popeye prompted talk of Sylvester Stallone and his curious habit while filming the Rocky series to always take one “real” punch to set himself up for the fight scenes, or at least he used to until he told Dolph Lungren, “punch me as hard as you can in the chest” and he ended up in intensive care for four days. Maybe this is what happened to Crazy Legs’ sister?
Crazy Legs then had us try to guess the well-known film that Sylvester Stallone had directed, but even with the clues that it was a sequel and starred John Travolta, none of us could. I did recall a film that Stallone not only directed but wrote (and was surprisingly entertaining). I knew it was about a wrestler, had Tom Waits appropriately playing a character called Mumbles, but again the title eluded me. (It was not, as Crazy Legs suggested “The Wrestler.”)
Someone wondered if Stallone’s mother was still alive. Naturally, nobody could remember her name, but we reasoned she was either deceased, or so truly ancient she was unlikely to be putting in many personal appearances. Then again we were also conscious of Kirk Douglas who lived to a ripe old age and, while fairly sure he had recently passed, there was no certainty in the group.
Somehow Kirk Doulas segued into Caribbean food and discussion about the Scotch Bonnet and whether it was the hottest pepper as measured on the Scoville Scale (not as Crazy Legs suggested the Schofield Scale, which apparently measures how naff your morning TV programmes are.)
At least we all agreed that the Scotch Bonnet wasn’t the hottest pepper around, but (obviously) no one could remember what was.
There was then a discussion about whether you could be the victim of physically “spiking” (i.e. injected with a drug) without realising it had happened. For the record, I have absolutely no recollection of how the conversation ended up here!
We backtracked to learn Crazy Legs’ dog is jealously possessive of pine cones and likes to lick people after being fed. Mrs Crazy Legs argues it’s a sign of affection, Crazy Legs thinks it’s a canine form of tongue cleaning …
Luckily it was time to leave, before someone else had a go at spinning the conversation randomiser wheel, and we saddled up to scoot.
It was a good and pleasant run back. Then as we crested Berwick Hill I nodded at the red flag, fluttering taut above the firing range and noted the direction it was streaming.
“That’s looking like a block headwind all the way back to the coast for you,” I suggested to Taffy Steve. He resignedly acknowledged this was probably true, but one man’s misery might be another’s good fortune and so it proved – I had a tailwind/cross-tailwind to help me up all major climbs on the way back and thoroughly enjoyed my wind-assisted amble home.
Just for the record and thanks to the power invested in me by Mr. Google, I can tell you that:
The Popeye film set is near the village of Mellieha on the island of Malta.
The actress who played Olive Oyl in the Popeye movie was Shelley Duvall.
The sequel Stallone directed John Travolta in was Staying Alive.
The wrestling film Stallone wrote and directed was Paradise Alley. Surprisingly he doesn’t play a wrestler.
Stallone’s mother was called Jackie and she died in 2020 aged 98.
Kirk Douglas was 103 when he died. It was relatively recently, also in 2020.
The Carolina Reaper is officially the World’s Hottest Pepper rated at 2.2 Million Scoville units or 200x hotter than a jalapeño. In contrast, the Scotch Bonnet is only 40x hotter than a jalapeño. (I apologise in advance to my Dutch friends if the Scoville Scale is composed of retard units.)
Mr. Google has no idea why Crazy Legs’ dog feels the need to lick people after being fed. Perhaps it’s a suitable topic for the world’s greatest thinkers now I’ve finally cracked the paradox of the Ship of Theseus?
Well the weather forecast predicted wall-to-wall heavy rain and a gusting winds that would gradually get worse throughout the day, but Saturday morning was just a bit grey and damp and I was starting to hope the meteorologists had got this one badly wrong. Nevertheless, I was riding out with my most waterproof rain jacket and a spare pair of gloves in my back pocket, cap and overshoes to top and tail my preparations and (the indignity of) clip on mudguards strapped to the Holdsworth.
Despite the less than ideal conditions I must have been keen as I found myself closing in on the meeting point 20 minutes too early, so took a detour around the houses to fill in some time. Arriving back at the meeting point (still ridiculously early) I shuffled into the gloom of the underground car park to wait. Hmm, no JPF riders this week, they’ll get a reputation as fair weather cyclists if they keep this up.
Numbers started to build as the rain became just a little bit more insistent and I pulled on my jacket in preparation for heading out again. Aether had planned the route and it was time to go down by the riverside (I expect a clapped response!)
We knew OGL wouldn’t follow, but there was still enough willing to use the planned route for 3 or 4 separate groups. We formed a quick, first six and pushed out before the usual 9:15 start, leaving even as others were still trickling in and I found myself on the front alongside Caracol and in a group also containing Jimmy Mac, Biden Fecht, Spoons and James III.
As well as our annual, “guess the most improbable winner of the Giro d’Italia competition” (I swear no one would have picked either Tao Geoghegan Hart or Jai Hindley last year), Caracol was pondering that other Gordian Knot of a question – when we’d be able to travel abroad safely. He said the girls in his office had been getting excited at all the talk of traffic lights indicating safe travel areas, but had been hugely disappointed when none of Ibiza, Zante, Torremolinos, or Benidorm featured.
We tried to work through some of the available options for cycling trips, but aside from Portugal, these seemed limited. Iceland? Possibly even colder and wetter than North East England. Ascension Island? The temperature doesn’t drop below 20ºC and it seldom rains, but it’s not renowned for good roads (they have place names like Breakneck Valley f.f.s.) and access is a bit of an issue, being nothing more than a tiny speck in the middle of the Atlantic over a thousand miles from the coast of Africa one way, and South America the other.
That only seemed to leave the Falkland Islands, a little more developed than Ascension, if a slightly off-putting 8,000 miles distant. We determined we could probably get a group of 5 or 6 cyclists interested, which would quadruple annual tourism to the islands in one fell swoop, but then the average daily temperature of the warmest months, January and February (which have already past), is only about 10 °C and it’s rainy and windy as well. Yeah, perhaps we’d best wait a little while longer …
Some seat of the pants navigating took us out past the airport and through Darras Hall. On the climb up to Stamfordham Road, the rain got a little heavier and Caracol stopped to don a jacket. When we got moving again, Jimmy Mac and Biden Fecht took over on the front and I dropped to the back with Caracol, who was already planning to ship and stow his jacket “as soon as this rain eases a little.” He’s nothing if not optimistic.
We dropped down into the Tyne Valley via Wylam and I found myself on the front again, this time alongside Jimmy Mac as we followed the river westward. It had taken a while, but the rain had finally breached my overshoes, my socks were becoming cold, wet and heavy and feeling was fleeing my toes. Just past the bridge at Stocksfield, we struck out north climbing out of the valley, the rest romping ahead while I took the climb at a more leisurely pace. The group had safely threaded their way across the A69 and 4-lanes of fast traffic when I reached the top and they’d pulled up on the other side to regroup and recover. I darted across the road at the first gap in the traffic, rather rudely rolled past them and got to work on the next set of climbs, figuring it was too miserable to hang about and they’d soon catch up.
Over the top I was joined on the front by Jimmy Mac again, as we rattled briefly downhill, then started climbing toward the reservoir. The temperature had dipped beyond chill, the rain was lashing in and the wind had started to seriously gust. It was horrible. It was miserable and even Biden Fecht could only summon up the odd desultory, half-hearted song to keep our spirits up.
I scanned the banks of the reservoir as we battered headlong into the wind and the rain.
“Hmm, no anglers out today? The wimps.”
Through the gloom Jimmy Mac did manage to spot a couple, huddled miserably under flimsy looking rain shelters.
“They must be the hard core,” I suggested, “They probably don’t even use rods.”
“Just a bit of fish tickling before wrangling and wrestling them up onto the bank,” he suggested. I wouldn’t be surprised.
“Are you thinking of a café stop?” he queried some time later.
“Probably not,” I replied.
What on earth was I saying? Of course I wasn’t thinking of a café stop, it was madness, what pleasure would we possibly get standing huddled out in a garden, cold and soaked to the skin, drinking tepid coffee and watching cake slowly dissolve in the pouring rain. No, I wasn’t stopping.
Nor was any one else, either and we sped through Stamfordham, past the turn-off for the café without a second glance, now heading straight home. We took a right up through Cheeseburn Grange and I swung off the front with Jimmy Mac, but found an understandable reluctance for anyone to come through. Jimmy Mac took to the front again, but I was done and drifted back through the group.
From here I had the perfect view of James III frothing at the seat pad, like one of Pavlov’s dogs that had unfortunately caught rabies and a bad case of tinnitus at the same time. This rather unsavoury spectacle a salutary lesson in why you should fit mudguards, or at the very least an ass-saver when planning to ride in the rain.
I hung onto the group in grim, stoic silence (which probably isn’t all that distinguishable from my usual anti-social silence) as we crested one last rise, before the road dipped again down Penny Hill. Most of the group swung left, while I kept going, trailing in the wake of James III, but at some distance because I was getting seriously cold on the descent, so kept braking to slow down and ease the wind chill. This had the secondary advantage of taking me out range of any errant flying ass-foam too.
I caught up to James III as the road started to climb again, then, just past the golf course, I turned right as he kept straight on. Usually when I’m tired on a ride I look at red lights as a welcome respite, but conditions were so grim I really hated stopping, so became a bit of an “amber-gambler” and may even have sneaked through a couple of lights that were technically already on stop. Oh well, I’m sure it pleased a few motorists to have their worst perceptions of cyclists confirmed.
Half way down the drop to the river, I stopped for the luxury of changing into my spare pair of blissfully dry gloves. This proved harder than I anticipated. It was a full minute before I could straighten my arms enough to strip off and wring out the wet gloves and then go fishing into my back pockets for their replacements. Then the damp skin and shivering conspired to make pulling them on a Herculean task in its own right. Still, once done the effort seemed worth it, as a little bit of warmth and feeling started to return to my fingers, at least until these gloves too became wet and water-logged.
The ordeal wasn’t quite as bad as descending the Galibier in a full-on thunderstorm but it was close. Finally home, the pile of sodden clothing I discarded on the kitchen floor looked like the dissolved remains of the Wicked Witch of the West and it took an age before I could tell if the shower was cold, a reasonable temperature, or so boiling hot it was in danger of scalding my skin off. Feeling finally returned, along with a bright red blush to all the areas that had been most exposed to the wind, the tops of my thighs in particular adopting a warm radioactive glow.
Perhaps the Falkland Islands isn’t such a bad idea after all?
Given (to my mind) the onerous task of devising a route for this week’s ride, at the coffee stop last week Crazy Legs had felt impelled to resurrect our Classic Club Café sprint for next Saturday, over the rollers and up the long drag to Belsay. He even suggested stopping at the café there for old time’s sake. I happened to mention, for some misguided reason, that I was feeling nostalgic for Middleton Bank, a climb I hadn’t suffered on for at least a year and, hey presto, he had the bones of a route. A quick double-check to ensure the café at Belsay would actually be open for business and Crazy Legs went away to fill in the rest of the ride and post it up for people to accept or ignore, depending on their inclination.
With the Holdsworth still undergoing remedial surgery and not wanting to waste another good day riding the heavy winter bike, I had a week to find and secure a replacement mount. Surprisingly, this proved considerably easier than I imagined, when Gumtree directed me to a nearly new, barely ridden velocipede in the care of a 77-year old cyclist whose knees had given out and prevented him from riding.
So, for a few hundred quid, I’m now the owner of what is (solely in my estimation, of course) Halford’s most aesthetically pleasing creation, an Intuition 13 Alpha, from a very brief time when the UK’s biggest and possibly most maligned motorist discount store was dabbling in (semi-)performance bikes. I do seem to have an penchant for picking up a manufacturers fin de cycle products (if you’ll excuse the pun.) The Intuition range is no longer manufactured, while the Holdsworth Stelvio was one of the last frames produced by that venerable company before they caved and were acquired by Planet-X. Even my winter bike, the Peugeot CR23 was part of a 2 bike range they pulled together for the briefest of ill-founded forays back into the UK market, via an exclusive deal with Evans that only seemed to have lasted 12 months.
Where the Holdsworth is the epitome of gaudy overstatement, a violent clash of glossy black, red and yellow, with the brand name unforgivably and inexplicably plastered a dozen times across its frame, the chalk-white 13 is at the opposite extreme, a model of simplistic minimalism, the most striking feature being an odd, inversed 13 “dossard” stuck on the back of the seat post. It adds nothing and I’m not sure I like it, but has survived. For now.
The bike was in mint condition, having been ridden only twice in anger and pretty much ready to roll. I switched out the stock 23mm Vittoria Zafiro’s for my favoured 25mm Rubino’s and will eventually get round to replacing the SPD’s for my usual Look Keo pedals and, maybe the wheels (although the current set seem light, roll well and are carefully colour coordinated). Still, minor details aside, there was nothing to prevent its debut and participation in the club run on Saturday.
The same can’t be said for G-Dawg, who, just a few days after this blerg noted how many middle-aged blokes seem to suffer serious injuries playing five-a-side, went out to play five-a-side and broke his leg. Apparently, according to his social media posts, that means he’ll now have to play in goal for his team next week and, possibly worse, he’ll be off the bike for an extended period of time. Yikes!
On Saturday morning, last minute tinkering with this, that and t’other, had me leaving the house half an hour behind schedule, so I had no choice but to engage in a bit of dual-carriageway surfing, cross the river at the nearest bridge and push hard all the way to the meeting point, arriving completely winded, already tired, but almost on time, with Jimmy Mac already leading out the first group of fast-men and racing snakes (the two are not mutually exclusive.)
I paused only long enough to catch OGL offering up a free, used torque wrench to anyone who had a need.
“Is this the same torque wrench you were trying to sell me for a tenner last week?” Goose enquired ruefully. Apparently it was, but that’s as much of the conversation as I caught as I formed up with Aether, who was leading out the second group and away we went. When I finally had time to look back and determine who I was riding with, alongside Aether, I found myself in the company of Spoons and 3 FNG’s.
Up past the Cheese Farm and out through Tranwell, I noticed the rape seed is starting to flower and it’s pervasive and slightly sickly aroma already hung heavy over the lanes.
We dropped down toward the River Wansbeck, by-passing the entrance to the Mur de Mitford to take the gentler climb westward out of the valley. Then it was through Dyke Neuk to the dip and rise through Hartburn.
We knew somewhere along this route we were supposed to take a secret turn onto a road that had been on our routes a few times, but no one I’ve been with has ever found. Aether had prepared for this test in advance, tracing our proposed route on Google maps, before switching to the satellite view to try and spot an obvious landmark that could guide us.
“I managed to spot a big, round thing,” he told me.
“I thought so too, so I zoomed in for a closer look.”
“It was a tree…”
“Oh. Right-o. So we’re looking for a tree then? Well, that certainly narrows things down.”
Still, somehow Aether managed to pick the right tree out of the hundreds of thousands that lined our route and we traversed the secret road before pushing on to Scot’s Gap. A left turn onto the still incredibly crappy road surface and we were heading straight for Middleton Bank. Off the back, heavy-legged and struggling upwards, I seriously started to question my own sanity and what it was about the climb that had inexplicably created a sense of longing to relive the experience.
Still, once over the climb, I managed to coax a little more speed out of the legs and we coalesced as a single group again and hauled ass for the café. Here at least there were patches and strips of new road surface, making a welcome change and encouraging a little more speed. I attacked over the rollers – you know, just because – and found Aether jumping at the same time. Hmm, maybe I’m becoming predictable. Then we re-grouped on the descent and started the long drag up to the café, more or less in formation and at a relatively sedate pace. On the front alongside one of the FNG’s I nudged my wheel slightly ahead of his and so, by default, won a sprint he didn’t even know we were contesting. Well, they all count in my book.
We found the Colossus already seated at the café.
“How’s your dad taking his injury?” I enquired, “Already stir crazy and unbearable?”
Unsurprisingly, the answer was yes.
“Even more to the point,” Aether wanted to know, “How’s your mum coping?”
The Colossus just shook his head in quiet resignation. Hmm, not good.
Talking about dangerous sports, one of the FNG’s told us the most violent sport he’d ever witnessed had been a game of football for the blind, played on an enclosed pitch with the players often running full tilt into each other and any inanimate objects, as they chased pell-mell after a ball with a bell inside.
“You should see the mayhem if a pet cat gets loose on the pitch, too!” Another FNG added.
Before leaving I had a chat with Crazy Legs. He’d had a superb great morning riding with OGL and ribbing him mightily every time his expensive Di2 system shipped his chain, which was apparently far too often. We arranged to meet early next week before the ride so I could finally deliver him his new jersey. This might stop his constant carping, but I seriously doubt it.
Then it was time to go and as our group left the table it seemed to signal a mass exodus and we all gathered in the car park as a small, white car pulled up. The passenger side door swung fully open and out came a shiny, metal crutch. Then another. And then a foot in a plaster cast and finally, G-Dawg slowly and awkwardly emerged. He can’t ride, but Mrs G-Dawg had agreed to drive him to the café in an attempt to stop his constant sulking.
Saluting G-Dawg had us all bunched together leading the café, so I injected a bit of pace on Berwick Hill to break us up. The fast group took the opportunity to zip past near the top and gave me a target to chase and I was able to go full pelt with absolutely no danger of ever closing the gap to them.
Yet another FNG (where are the all coming from) spelled me on the from Dinnington to just past the airport, then I was into the Mad Mile and swinging away for the solo trek home.
The new bike served perfectly, I’m sure the ride wouldn’t have been as enjoyable on the Peugeot, but the chalk-white finish may be a little difficult to maintain, so assuming the Holdsworth is restored to full functionality, the 13 might get the cossetted, Ribble-esque treatment and get to avoid the rain like a hydrophobic cat.
Day of the Condor – Continuing a tenuous avian theme established by last weeks cameo from a stool pigeon. Ha cha cha cha.
For those of you who hate cliff hangers and are too lazy to look things up on Strava (yes, I’m looking at you, Monsieur Crazy Legs) then yes, I managed to snatch back my Strava KOM and everything is good with the world.
I actually quite enjoyed my little extra-curricular challenge last week and since I have no need to be at a particular meeting point at a given time for the foreseeable future, I might try further Strava segment smash and grabs.
It’s a bit like the cycling equivalent of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange – once you’ve smashed it open and snaffled one segment, you always want more.
There’s one in particular KOM that ends almost practically outside my front door, so I feel obliged to give that one a go next. The trouble is, its a very short, steep ramp with a brutal speed bump half-way, ideally placed to disrupt your rhythm just as things turn nasty. It’s also so short a segment that the record is just 16 seconds, so I suspect you have to be travelling at maximum speed before you hit the start and then slam on the brakes before you hit the end – a junction onto a busy main road. There’s absolutely no margin for error.
Three guys and one girl have done it in 16 seconds, while my best is a whole second slower, good enough for a top 5 place along with a whole slew of others. By my reckoning, if I can hit and hold 50 kph for that short, handful of seconds it takes to get to the top, I should be in with a shout.
Today’s first effort was woeful. The gear I chose was too big and I ran out of momentum before the top, finishing in a totally unconvincing 20 seconds. Still, maybe next week.
Today was a chilly but bright day, so I venured out wearing both a long sleeved baselayer and armwarmers, legwarmers, thermal socks, a cap and long-fingered gloves. For once I got it about right and never felt over-dressed.
Following my lung and leg shredding failed KOM effort, I dropped down into the valley, crossed the river and started climbing out the other side again.
I pretty much followed the route I’d taken last week up Hospital Lane, before taking a quick detour, following the signs for Chapel House on a whim. I expected a picturesque village built up around a small kirk, but found nothing but a long loop through a modern and rather uninspiring housing estate. Don’t judge a book by its cover, or a place by its name for that matter.
Through Callerton and approaching Penny Hill, I was stalking another cyclist who seemed to be travelling at least as fast as I was on the flat, but slightly slower on the hills. As we started up the climb I closed on him – a tall, slender man, on a tall slender, steel-framed bike. Just before I caught up, a blocky-burly-beardy-bloke bustled past. I dropped onto his wheel and he pulled me past Slender Man, then I overtook Blocky Burly Beardy Bloke as the climb stiffened and his bustle degenerated to a slow grind.
The road levelled and I kept going toward Stamfordham. About 10km later, Slender Man slid past me, with a nod and a garbled message.
“I didn’t realise it was going to be quite so windy,” he’d apparently said, words instantly snatched away by that very wind, obviously looking to prove a point. It wasn’t until he repeated what he said that I got their gist and could agree with him.
I tagged along behind him for a while, not quite in his wheel, but within a socially restrained 3 or 4 metres that still gave me a little drafting benefit. Then, on the rise just before Stamfordham I eased past and onto the front again.
Passing Whittle Dene Reservoir and I slowed for a cyclist stopped by side of road, checking he was ok and Slender Man caught me and we rolled along on either side of the road, chatting for a while.
He asked if I too was heading toward Corbridge, his intended destination and I confessed I was just wandering aimlessly, then we discussed old bike brands, the sorry demise of Holdsworth and his trust of steel-frames not to catastrophically fail like carbon, while I admired his pristine Condor.
We climbed to the top of the road to Newton and then parted, as he swung left to dip into the Tyne Valley and I pushed on toward Stagshaw and then Matfen. Through Matfen, I was half-minded to drop down the Ryals, but the wind put me off, so I routed up past the Quarry again and then down to Belsay.
From there I headed toward Whalton, instantly regretting my choice as I found they were cutting back the hedges along this stretch of road. I say cutting back, but it’s more like they thrash them into submission, scattering a wide swathe of detritus across the road surface. This almost invariably contains a large serving of the infamous Northumbrian steel-tipped thorns – which add a super high likelihood of you picking up punctures.
I picked my way through the debris as best I could, breathed a huge sigh of relief when I exited the zone of destruction with both tyres intact, then instantly cursed myself for inviting disaster with such reckless self-congratulatory thinking. I was inviting disaster.
I found that, like a lot of the roads in this area, the stretch from Belsay to Whalton has also been given that heavy, rough and grippy, open-textured and horrible, fresh surface that seems to have become the new norm. I think I preferred the old one, even with all its potholes and fissures.
At the Gubeon, I turned for home, calling in for a quick stop at Kirkley to re-fuel and on the off chance of bumping into a familiar face or two. I found G-Dawg on one of the benches, pressed up against the wall to try and find some shelter from the biting wind. Other than one other auld feller riding on his own, the place was otherwise deserted, so plenty of space for social distancing and no issues getting served quickly. Even chill weather has to have some benefits.
By the time I got from the serving hatch to the bench, my coffee had gone cold and OGL had arrived, probably just stopping by to see who was mad enough to be out.
He rolled off after singing the virtues of his new Vittoria tyres (he was preaching to the choir) while I gulped down cold coffee and a large if uninspiring serving of carrot cake. After 20 minutes the chill was starting to bite and I was packing up to leave. G-Dawg was determined to brave the elements for a few more minutes to see if anyone else was out and also because if he fears if he gets home too early, he thinks he’ll be expected to get back at that exact same time every week.
I had the wind firmly behind me most of the way home and was feeling good, the pedals seeming to float around on their own. It was a decently fast run back and I found I was home an hour before my usual arrival. Luckily no one else was in the house.
While idly meandering through various social media (mediums?) this week, this picture was perhaps the most arresting that I came across …
And I quite liked the analogy that related it to the pandemic, inferring that you need to account for the idiots who could unwittingly cause harm to both themselves and others.
Still, as much as the photo fits the compelling narrative of the caption, it sadly isn’t at all accurate. It didn’t take much digging to identify that the picture is actually from the Algerian War of Independence and shows French Legionnaires rescuing a malnourished donkey and carrying it to their base, where it would be nursed back to health and adopted as the the unit mascot.
Still, does that knowledge invalidate the message and make it any less apt?
I’m still not quite there with group rides yet, so planned another solo adventure for Saturday. Actually, suggesting I had a plan is giving myself far too much credit, what I actually had was inkling of an idea and an odd yen to climb the Trench, reasoning it’s been months since I travelled those roads and it might be quite … well, refreshing?
(I guess anyone who’s actually climbed the Trench will recognise just how odd a yen this was.)
My route there, or at least the only route I could trust myself to follow, included a clamber up the short-but-steep Mur du Mitford and from there my way home would be traced via that perennial club favourite, Middleton Bank. In effect, with the Mur, Trench and Middleton Bank, I’d set my sights on a triumvirate of torture.
Throw in the climb of Hospital Lane to get out of the Tyne Valley and my usual drag up the Heinous Hill to cap things off and it was actually more like a pentagram of pain. Perfect.
The weather promised to be decidedly “meh” though – almost unbroken cloud cover and occasional showers. The start was dank and dismal too, a light, weeping and ever-present drizzle, that slowly soaked everything, whilst the roads were still awash from an overnight downpour.
I’d learned my lesson last week having indelibly besmirched another pair of pristine, white socks and turned them a poisonous shade of dingy grey that no amount of Persil will ever rectify. This week I went for navy socks and hid my shame under a pair of light overshoes. Jersey, shorts, arm warmers and a rain jacket completed my super-stylish ensemble and I was good to go, hoping I’d be able to ship the jacket somewhere along the way.
There was movement out on the river this week, rowing is back underway and the water was dotted with single sculls. No sign of the crewed fours, or eights yet, but an indication things are slowly returning to normal.
There was another sign of returning to normal at Westerhope, where, at 8:50 and presumably still ten minutes before opening time, a queue of raggedy-haired, mop-topped blokes was already forming a disorderly queue on the pavement outside the barbers, desperate for a post-lockdown shearing.
I dropped down the hill toward Kingston Park, slowing to remove my specs and thread them into my helmet vents as they were becoming increasingly opaque as as the mist-come-rain speckled the lenses. My bike frame was beaded with glistening droplets of moisture too and starting to resemble something you might find in an exotic soft-porn shoot.
Or so I’ve been led to believe…
From Kingston Park , I picked up standard club run routing through Dinnington, then running up Bell’s Hill, confident I knew where I was going. Only the road was closed just past the climb and I was forced into a slight detour. Still, even then the surroundings were reassuringly familiar and I was soon through Tranwell Woods and closing in on Mitford.
It was here that I encountered my first group of riders, around a dozen or so cheery female cyclists, travelling well-spread out in three or four distinct clumps. I would later wonder how I missed the memo about it being National Women’s Cycling Day, as at least every other rider I passed thereafter seemed to be female. It was good to see so many out enjoying the riding, if not the less than perfect weather.
At Mitford, I stopped for a cereal bar breakfast and to peer through the drizzle at the ruins of the castle. We always scamper past this en bloc and at relatively high pace, so I’ve never really stopped to consider it. Internet sleuthing tells me it built as a motte and bailey castle by the Normans in the late 11th Century, only to be destroyed, burned and abandoned two hundred or so years later.
Sight-seeing and needless, pedantic sight-seeing commentary over with, I pushed on to the Mur de Mitford, where I found the left-hand lane demarcated by a long, frayed streamer, a coppery-blue-hued, glistening rainbow of spilled diesel, stretching all the way up the climb, from top to bottom.
Luckily the road was otherwise empty, so I switched to the far right-hand lane to clamber up, warily avoiding the evil gleam of the oil spill that promised an immediate loss of traction and potential pratfall.
From there it was a straightforward run to the bottom of the Trench and a fairly civilised, I might almost say enjoyable, climb through it, although the legs were tiring as I pushed over the top and on to Dyke Neuk. Here I decided on the spur of the moment that I might as well go for the full set of club climbs and take in the horrid grind up to Rothley Crossroads too.
Instead of back-tracking, I took the road toward Hartburn, turning right just before the dip and rise to the village and heading north once again. This is a road we often traverse in the other direction and now I know why, it’s actually a testing little climb going the other way.
Having completed a big loop around Dyke Neuk, I was soon back on the road leading from the top of the Trench and passing through Longwitton, and climbing to the crossroads.
I don’t know what it is about this climb, it’s not particularly steep and shouldn’t be half as hard as it actually is, but it’s a constant grind, difficult to find the right cadence on … and it hurts like hell.
I was halfway up when the silence was split by the hollow, lone bellow of a cow, evidently in extreme discomfort. “You and me both,” I muttered to myself.
The commotion seemed to be coming from the field off to my right, but its source was screened by a dense line of trees . Once again the cow brayed its distress and I couldn’t help thinking that if my legs were to be given voice at that precise moment, that would be the exact sound they’d make too.
A brief pause at the crossroads, then I dropped through to Scots Gap and up Middleton Bank, where a toiling cyclist ahead of me provided an additional bit of motivation. Cresting the top I finally decided it was safe to remove my jacket and shoved it messily in a back pocket.
Then it was homeward bound, Bolam, Belsay, Kirkley in short order, through Dinnington, out to Westerhope (the queue outside the barbers was long gone) and across the river at Newburn.
The volume of cars on the road is back to near normal levels, so I abandoned the main road up the Heinous Hill about three-quarters of the way up, taking to the side streets to avoid the queuing traffic stretching from the traffic lights back down the bank. Well, that was nice while it lasted.
Then, one last short, steep ramp, and I was home again.
Well, six-hundred and forty-eight kilometres actually, since lock-down, but I do have a provisional poetic licence and besides, what’s 2km between friends?
That, by the way represents 31 hours and 14 minutes of solo riding, in my own company.
It’s just as well I almost like myself …
Today was the perfect day to build this total, the sky exposed in huge patches of blue, so the sun beamed down brightly for extended periods – strong enough and long enough in fact, that I would make a very credible start on this years tan lines – well, once I’d ditched the arm warmers, which only lasted until I’d made it to the bridge.
Across the river and went climbing straight back out of the valley, up Hospital Lane, through Westerhope and out onto typical club run roads. I looked at the route on Strava afterwards and was surprised how much it was pretty much a straight north-south line.
I went through Ponteland, Kirkley and then, after around 30km, I found myself at the junction for the road that would lead toward Whalton and homeward. I was enjoying myself though and still hadn’t had enough, so I took a right here, turning away from Whalton, to add on a further loop through Molesden and Meldon.
That makes it sound like I had some sort of grand plan in mind, but to be honest I was happy to be riding, revelling in the weather and instinctively following wherever my front wheel decided to take me.
I might have been riding solo, but I was far from alone and must have passed dozens and dozens of other cyclists, out enjoying the weather and their allotted exercise period. The majority were club riders, but there were also plenty of civilians too, typically with their saddles set too low and knees sticking out like knobbly wind-brakes.
No matter, everyone seemed genuinely happy and riding with a smile on their face and it was great to see so many people enjoying the simple, pure pleasure of piloting a bike. In fact the only dissenting voice I heard came from a horsewoman on a sleek-looking, grey horse. She seemed mildly disappointed the weather wasn’t blazingly hot and demurred when I suggested we had “a nice day for it.”
At the Gubeon, I passed Alhambra, flying in the opposite direction, our hastily shouted hello’s the only direct contact I’ve had with the club since this whole sorry Covid-19 episode began.
I completed my loop and stopped at a random gate just outside Belsay for a quick break and the now obligatory photo of the bike propped against a random piece of scenery.
It was here I noted the shiny black flying insects, swarming over the top of every hedgerow in some kind of mad mating, or feeding frenzy. I’d been aware of them throughout the ride, occasionally pinging off my specs, rattling around in the vents of my helmet and once even dive-bombing, kamikaze-style, straight at my mouth, I just hadn’t realised just how many of the blighters were out and about.
Still, they seemed harmless, if occasionally annoying when they wandered inadvertently into my path. I left them alone and for the most part, they left me alone too.
From my resting place, I picked up a road for Ponteland, which soon deposited me on the Ogle road and back on familiar terrain, as I started to retrace my steps. I noticed the rape seed is coming in strongly now, huge swathes of land stained a bright and alien, acid yellow.
Meh, fields didn’t look like that when I was a nipper.
As I crested the top of Berwick Hill, I found I was enjoying myself and still hadn’t had enough, so I went right instead of left and back-tracked through Ponteland and out onto the High Callerton road. At Callerton itself, I was a bit disorientated to find a massive new housing estate had sprung up since the last time I took this route. Surely it wasn’t that long ago?
I kept going, but wasn’t reassured I hadn’t missed a turn until the landscape became familiar again and I was once more passing through Westerhope.
From there, I worked myself down to the river, across Newburn Bridge and struck out down the valley again. At the Blaydon roundabout, I found I was enjoying myself and still hadn’t had enough, so I took another detour, heading right along the Derwent Valley to Rowlands Gill.
From there, I took in the climb up to Burnopfield. Cresting this final, major hill of the day, I decided that was it, I really had had enough, so with no more detours, I skipped straight along the Fell and home.
Another guest blogger has kindly stepped up to the mark in our time of need! This contribution is from my old (old, old, old!) mate, Tony Clay, who describes himself as a long-distance member of our cycling club, before explaining that by this he means he lives a long way from Newcastle and not that he rides long distances anymore!
Currently residing in the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire, Tony still has dual nationality and a Geordie passport and recalls his formative years “happily riding around Northumberland and Durham with some great people.”
This is a faithful telling of how he (and then, by association, yours truly) came to be cyclists, rather than … I don’t know … golfers? … lard-arsed sofa surfers? … sane and mellow normal people without a Lycra fetish? Maybe all, or none of these.
A Revelation on the Road to Damascus Hexham by Tony Clay
For the record, my other clubs – Tyne Road Club (at the same time as Joe Waugh(1)), Whitley Bay Road Club (at the same time as Mick Bradshaw(2)) Tyne Velo, Sheffield Phoenix, Sharrow CC, Meersbrook CC, Rutland CC (at the same time as Malcolm Elliott(3)), Thurcroft CC and my current local Club – Rotherham Wheelers (100 years old this Summer).
I’ve a couple of years on SLJ and have known him since I was 14. One of my fond memories is when he and I went on a YHA cycling tour around Devon and Cornwall in 1978. We had some laughs. I think it was £2 per night in the Youth Hostels back then and I booked and paid in advance by Postal Order, do they even exist today? (Mr. Google suggests that indeed, they still do, but I’ve never heard any one use, or even talk about them for decades!)
But anyway, let’s go back to my childhood… I had to visit a Psychotherapist some years ago and, though it sounds cliched, that was actually about the first thing he said to me, ‘Tell me about your childhood.’
Well, there was a small gang of us 14/15 year olds at school, a mixture of lads and lasses who ‘knocked about’ together, all very innocent. We all went to the after-school clubs, the youth club, the ‘movies’, walking, camping and canoeing together. Simpler times.
The summer holidays in 1974 saw some lovely weather. We all got the train to South Shields now and again for a day at the beach with Frisbees, burgers, coke and ice cream.
I can’t remember who suggested it but someone said, ‘let’s go for a bike ride’.
But I didn’t have a bike…
But, asking around I managed to borrow Dick Taylor’s bike. The bike was a Sturmey Archer, 3-speed ‘all steel’ Raleigh. I’m not sure what happened to the bike, but Dick Taylor went on to a place in the GB Olympic Kayak Team and, even at 16, he was quite an impressive physical specimen, tall, blonde and ‘fit as the proverbial butcher’s dog’. Perhaps he got that way riding his beast of a bike?
So, beastly bike sorted, where would we go?
The obvious choice was South Shields, only a 20-mile round trip and we could go on the beach with Frisbees, burgers, coke and ice cream. Perfect!
We decided to go to Hexham.
Initially not a bad idea as we knew Hexham quite well as we had been there many times at ‘Dukeshouse Wood’ School Camp, very happy times.
What we didn’t factor in was the distance… we didn’t even think about what is essentially a 50-mile round trip.
50 miles! I’d never ridden further than the local shops on my tricycle as a bairn!
So the ‘Liste de Engagements’ was:-
‘Rowesy’ riding his brother’s Holdsworth.
‘Fat Rowesy’, – no relation and earned the epithet “fat” principally to differentiate the two Rowesy’s. Fat Rowesy was on his brother’s Carlton Kermesse (a lovely bike which I later bought off him.)
‘Fat John’ on a BSA Tour of Britain.
‘Erra’ on a flat handlebar Raleigh Roadster.
‘Gutha’ on his brother’s Carlton, horribly hand painted with Hammerite.
‘Doddsy’ on his very own (he was posh) Carlton Ten. A really sound touring bike, in mint condition. They sell for around £250 to the ‘Eroica’ enthusiasts today.
‘Maundy’ on his PUCH (PUKE!) International, really cheap and horrible, horrible, horrible; (I could never determine if it was meant to be pronounced puke, or if this was some subtle kind of Austrian humour and should perhaps be pronounced poosh. You know, like a poosh bike? Ah, forget it.)
‘Bryan’ so utterly nondescript he didn’t even earn a nickname… and I can’t remember his bike either!
(It’s brilliant to realise that teenage kids are every bit as accomplished at coming up with pithy, creative nicknames as some of our, err, “mature” professional sportsmen. I’m looking at you Wrighty, Gazza, Giggsy, Waughy, Cookie, Floody et al. Simple rules – if the surname is too long, truncate it a bit, then all you have to do is stick an “ee” or “ah” on the end. Why didn’t I think of that, could have save myself a huge amount of time and soul-searching!)
Having no idea what we were letting ourselves in for, nobody had any food or drink and a couple of us didn’t even take any money, so we all had to chip in to get them their ‘burgers, coke and ice cream’ when we got there.
The journey and return is perhaps a story for another day, but the key moment in that ride was when I swopped bikes with Fat Rowesy for a few miles as we passed through Corbridge.
Going from a 3-speed steel ‘clunker’ to a real racing bike was amazing. A real revelation. His Carlton Kermesse had 10 gears, tubular tyres and lots of alloy kit. It zinged. It seemed to smoothly glide along and was utterly effortless to ride.
That is the precise moment, 46 years ago, when I got hooked on cycling.
To be continued?
(1) Joseph Alexander Waugh. Twice National Hill Climb Champion King of the Mountains,1975 Milk Race 2nd, at 5 Seconds, 1976 Milk Race, riding in support of the winner Bill Nickson 2nd to Robert Millar (Pippa York) National Road Race Championships 1979 Gold Medallist 100km TTT 1982 Commonwealth Games, with Malcolm Elliott
(SLJ: Also occasionally known as Joey Wah-oogah to eagle-eyed readers of this blerg.)
(2) Mick Bradshaw.
Gold, Silver and Bronze Medallist in National Time Trial Championships at 25, 50 and 100 miles.
And, after a heart transplant he came back to win medals in the World Transplant Games, coincidentally held in Newcastle, one tough cookie.
(3) Malcolm Elliott. What needs to be said? National Hill Climb Champion, National Road Race, National Criterium Champion, Milk Race Winner (and holds the record for the number of stage wins), Tour de France rider (read ‘Wide Eyed And Legless’), Vuelta a Espana Points Classification Winner, Gold Medallist 100km TTT 1982 Commonwealth Games AND the Road Race… and was still racing, very successfully, as a pro aged 49! And a lovely friendly guy!
Cycling in the Time of Covid-19 – week ending 22nd March
Well, that’s typical, no sooner do I start riding again and club runs become verboten.
As the country’s somewhat fumbled response to the Corona Virus continued to evolve haphazardly, gatherings became restricted to six people as we moved toward the weekend and social media was alight with queries and concerns about our regular club runs.
In the face of limited, changing and confusing official guidance, some of our Saturday regulars decided to coalesce around our meeting point as usual, before forming into ad hoc small groups of three or four and heading out for a ride.
I decided it wasn’t worth trekking all the way across to the meeting point and settled on a solo run, largely staying south of the river. Others had similar ideas, while for some the purgatory and self-flagellation of turbo-trainers seemed to call.
Earlier in the week I’d been contacted by one of our club regulars, the estimable Biden Fecht. He described fleeing Scotland as the shutters came down, making his escape sound as dramatic as leaping onto the last Huey just as its skids lifted from the US embassy roof in Saigon. (It would be a great analogy, if the embassy staff had been evacuated on venerable and clanking 1990’s era rolling stock.)
Anyway, now safely under house arrest in Newcastle for the duration, he’s weirdly concerned he’s going to miss us (no, me neither) and is looking at ways we can support each other, stay in touch and maintain some sense of communal spirit.
As an option of last resort, he wondered if I’d throw open the pages of this venerable blog/blerg to any and all contributions, running the whole gamut from A to B. So from braggadocio to venting, from the asinine to extraordinary, any and all contributions are welcome be they inspiration, entertainment, or elucidation.
If you want to add, club member or not, send your contributions to email@example.com and certain fame infamy is sure to follow.
No rules, although at least a tenuous link to cycling is expected. So let us know what you’re doing, how you’re doing and why you’re doing whatever it it that your doing. We might be able to keep each other sane and make it through this yet.
(I will of course take full credit for anything that is well received and goes … err .. viral?)
I’m still waiting for a contribution from G-Dawg, titled “Hills in the North East You Can’t Climb on the Big Ring”. To be fair, he has already sent me an email with an attachment, but both were blank. I’m not sure what’s gone wrong there.
I’m also expecting a top-10 of quarantine themed ear-worms from Crazy Legs, although its my understanding that The Knack’s “My Corona” has already secured top-spot.
In the meantime – this is Biden Fecht’s contribution, a selfie including a wall in Whalton and daringly, breaking social distancing rules with his own shadow.
My own contribution also features a wall, somewhere near Newlands, as I tried to recon a route we could use for the club to venture south of the river … but got hopelessly lost.
I’ll spare you a selfie of my grizzled visage as I’ve taken home-working as an excuse not to shave. As my work colleague, the bloke formerly known as Fat Dave commented, by the time we come out of the other side of this, I’ll probably look like Tom Hanks at the end of Castaway.
Be safe and be good, I’ve got a feeling we’ve a long. long way to go yet.
A quick hit before I disappear for a well-deserved (well, in my opinion) holiday on the Costa Blanca…
Saturday was sticky, hot and humid, even under granite coloured skies that promised to live up to the forecast of frequent heavy showers. The air was strangely still and breathless, mirroring the river which was dull, flat and as still as a millpond as I rolled over the bridge.
Last night I’d resorted to some creative bike wrangling to ensure Reg was ready, fully restored and, most importantly back home. I’d ridden into work on the single-speed as usual, but returned via the Brassworks bike workshop at Pedalling Squares, at the bottom of the Heinous Hill. There, I swapped bikes, picking up and paying for the work on the Holdsworth, before riding it home.
I’d then pulled on a pair of trainers, packed my cycling shoes in a rucksack and ran back down the hill to retrieve the single-speed. This was enough to reinforce my long-held belief that biathlon’s and triathlons are the creation of the devil.
Still, it was worth it, the Holdsworth was running true and smooth and as good as new. There’s something reassuring in finding a bike mechanic who’s a perfectionist. Now the potential for rain was about the only thing likely to ruin a good ride.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The sadomasochistic Buster had volunteered for his maiden role of ride leader, devising a route that was replete with just about all of our signature climbs in one neat package; Bell’s Hill, the Mur de Mitford, the Trench, Rothley Crossroads, Berwick Hill and Middleton Bank. I definitely needed any advantage a good bike could bestow.
The Garrulous Kid was just hoping to get to the cafe as fast as possible, so he could retrieve his sun specs, which he’d managed to leave behind the week before. G-Dawg told me they made the Garrulous Kid look like a bad Roy Orbison impersonator and he had visions of some old feller finding them, slapping them on his head and then walking blindly into all the tables and chairs as he tried to locate the exit.
I reassured the Garrulous Kid that I was certain they’d still be there as, from G-Dawg’s description, it didn’t sound like anyone else would actually want them. He then wondered if his water bottle would still be there too, as that was something else he’d forgotten.
I’m trying to see if we can develop an unofficial club jersey that more than two or three people are happy to wear, so had a chat with a few people about this, including Princess Fiona … which was when I realised I hadn’t considered a female option as (apparently) they’re built a bit different. I think this is going to be one of those projects that sounds easy, but the deeper you dig, the more issues you unearth.
A bunch of our riders had submitted themselves to a British Cycling ride leader course last Sunday, to allow them to officially take groups of youngsters out onto the open roads and introduce them to the mystical, mythical, ever-enduring club ride.
The course was an astonishing 8 hours long and preceded by a 3 hour computer test on general road safety and regulations – a hell of a commitment, that still didn’t get us to where we want to be. Apparently, ride leaders also require an up to date, First Aid certificate too – an additional course and between £15-£25 per person and then it’s only valid for 3-years.
Once we have all this in place, we would still only be allowed 8 junior riders for every fully qualified and certified ride leader and to cap it all, British Cycling charged the club £1,000 to run the course, plus the cost of the venue hire.
From talking to the group, many of the principles, guidelines and requirements they learned sounded rather Byzantine and restrictive and, well, a bit of a ball ache to be fair. I’m in no position to judge if the course teaches the best and safest way to lead a group of youngsters onto our undoubtedly dangerous roads, but the cost and time commitments alone seem to actively discourage clubs from doing this. I’m not sure how well this chimes with the mission statement of British Cycling to grow cyclesport?
With such a large group, we split into two and I dropped into the second group. Talk of enacting course leader principles were quickly shelved and we pressed on in our usual ramshackle manner.
I found myself riding alongside Sneaky Pete as we got underway chatting about Canadian singer-songwriters, the TV adaption of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and the right balance between practical colours for a cycling jersey and rider visibility.
I climbed the Mur de Mitford at a fairly relaxed pace and found myself alongside Taffy Steve as we pressed on.
“Ah, the Pigdon Prowler, ” I announced, referring to the Strava segment we now found ourselves traversing. “I wonder where that name came from?”
Taffy Steve agreed it was bizarre, but admitted to being far more interested in the etymology behind a different Strava segment: “Jonny’s Polish Shagfest” – having spend months trying to identify if we had any Jonny’s in the club he could interrogate to try and understand the origin of the Central European Shagfest and what relation it had to cycling.
Next on our list of came the Trench which again we seemed to run at a reasonable pace, before pausing to regroup. Just as we were determining shorter and longer options, our first group clambered up to join us, having been delayed when Caracol inexplicably tried to mate his rampant bike with Rainman’s. The only issue from this most unholy of unions had been a smashed derailleur, which had forced Rainman to abandon and call for the voiture balai to get him safely home.
Crazy Legs urged the front group to keep going at their usual, brisk pace, while the rest of us would trail along behind in our own time. Several defectors though took the opportunity to drop back into the second group, notably Goose and the Big Yin. Good for them, bad for everyone else as it prompted me to unleash my finest nasal, Dylanesque wail; “What’s the point of changing … horses in midstream.”
Having somehow survived my intemperate wailing, we pressed on toward Rothley crossroads, taking the much maligned and hated traditional route, rather than the equally, or even more maligned and hated novel approach that Taffy Steve had recently inflicted on us.
As the gradient bit and the speed dropped, I pushed onto the front alongside Goose to help pace us up and over the cross-roads. We repeated the exercise on Middleton Bank and then started building up the speed for our long run toward the cafe.
Into the final few mile and I attacked on the rollers, just to surprise everyone, figuring they certainly wouldn’t be expecting the move. I then dragged a quite remarkably unstartled, unmoved and unflustered group, who were firmly lodged on my back wheel, up and around the final corner, before swinging aside for the sprinters to burn past.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Although earlier arrivals had all chose to sit inside the cafe, it was so hot and sticky we decide to sit outside in the garden. Zardoz had heard rumblings about a new, alternative jersey.
“Oh, can I have one with my name on it?” he wondered.
“We can all have your name on it,” I assured him.
“Oh, no, I wouldn’t know who I was then,” he deadpanned.
I heard from G-Dawg and Crazy Legs that The Silence had been one of those attending the Ride leaders programme, where, by all accounts he’d remained characteristically tight-lipped and taciturn throughout. I’m not wholly convinced keeping mum is great attribute for a ride leader.
We also learned that he has a near fatal attraction for edging toward the kerb, particularly alarming for anyone caught on his inside. He’d make a deadly sprinter in a bunch finish.
Our brief sojourn in the garden was otherwise uneventful and we left in two or three disparate groups to make our way home. By great good fortune we saw no actual rain, but would periodically encounter soaking wet roads, suggesting we’d only just missed being caught in a fearsome shower or two.
This good fortune held all the way home, completing an unexpectedly dry club run and it wasn’t until I parked up the bike and stepped into the house that the heavens opened up and the rain came stottin’ down.
For once, good timing.
YTD Totals: 4,825 km / 2,998 miles with 64,345 metres of climbing