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
Time. I just can’t seem to scrape together enough of this elusive, precious resource these days.
— or maybe, I’m just lazy.
Either way, it took me an excruciating 3-weeks to write-up and post about my misadventures in the Alps and all the while weekends kept ticking past. I now realise I’m in danger of losing this blerg’s raison d’etre, the celebration of the venerable club run, with all it’s attendant lurid colour, madness, madcap characters, incessant chatter and mayhem.
I was hoping to report that normal service would now be resumed, but events have conspired against me. More of that later, but first a brief recap of what I’ve missed and what you’ve been spared …
Club Run, Saturday 22nd June : Got a Short, Little, Span of AttentionDistance : 109km Elevation Gain: 1,133 m Riding Time: 4 hours 2 minutes
My first ride back from the Alps, not quite recovered and riding with very heavy legs. The Monkey Butler Boy wore a new pair of shorts complete with a sheer, translucent back panel, which is undoubtedly marketed as being more aero. The Red Max branded them as vaguely obscene and off-putting and insisted the Monkey Butler Boy ride behind him at all times. I wondered if, given this animal-like, ritual display, a change of name to Baboon Butler Boy wasn’t in order.
The Red Max complained the Monkey Butler Boy had stolen his trademark use of selected red highlights, although, to be fair the Red Max has never taken it to the extreme of exposing a big, pimply, scarlet baboon-ass in his quest for colour co-ordination.
At the cafe, talk turned to the upcoming Team Time Trial which Captain Black has somehow found himself press-ganged into riding. Throughout the discussion he kept looking at me with pleading eyes and silently mouthing “Help” and “Save Me” across the table. Sadly, I felt powerless to intervene.
As well as the physical pain and torment of actually riding the event, he may also have to suffer the indignity and mental anguish of donning our most unloved of club jersey’s. Astonishingly, the Cow Ranger declared wearing the club jersey should make you feel ten feet tall and unbeatable.
So, apparently not like a giant box of orange and lime Tic Tacs, then?
Club Run, Saturday 29th June : Topsy TurvyDistance : 122km Elevation Gain: 1,140 m Riding Time: 4 hours 37 minutes
A genius route, planned by Taffy Steve that turned our entire world upside down and shattered all kinds of preconceived notions. He had us riding up to Rothley Crossroads the wrong way, using the route we usually take to get away from the hated junction. It’s hated because we usually get there via a long, leaden drag, on lumpen, heavy roads, not quite steep enough to be called proper climbing, but not flat enough to power up sitting in the saddle.
Guess what? The alternative route is even worse…
Amidst much wailing, moaning and gnashing of teeth, I heard several riders vow they would never, ever, ever complain about our more typical route up to Rothley Crossroads again.
The ride was noteworthy as, perhaps the first time, we’d had a full complement of all four of our current refugees from the Netherlands out at the same time. As Taffy Steve quipped, we had numbers enough to form our own Dutch corner.
At the cafe, budding biological scientist the Garrulous Kid insulted our European compatriots by insisting the metric system was “crap.” He declared what we really needed was a decimal system that was easy to use, adaptable, internationally recognised, universally accepted and simple to pick up and apply. (Yes, I know he just described the metric system, but remember this is in Garrulous Kid World, which is dangerously unhitched from reality.)
Club Run, Saturday 29th June : Great British Bicycle Rides with Philomena Crank Distance : 122km Elevation Gain: 1,140 m Riding Time: 4 hours 37 minutes
My second annual Anti-Cyclone Ride, which has grown from a base of just two participants, Taffy Steve and The Red Max three years ago, to the 2019 edition which reached almost standard club run numbers. Twenty-two of us set out for a route that would occasionally intersect with the Cyclone Sportive, most importantly at a number of feed-stations where copious amounts of cake and coffee could be purchased.
For me, the most notable moment of the day was when my left hand crank slowly unwound from it’s spindle and came off, still attached to my shoe by its cleat. The Goose helped me fit it back on using the pinch bolts, but the crank cap appeared damaged. Still, I managed to make it the rest of the way around our route and right to the bottom of the Heinous Hill, before I felt my foot tracing that weird lemniscate pattern as the crank unwound again.
Bad luck, but reasonable timing, as it happened right outside Pedalling Squares cycling cafe. I was able to call in to their bike workshop, the Brassworks, where Patrick patched me up enough to get the rest of the way up the hill and home.
Later in the week the bike would travel back down to the Brassworks for a proper fix and, as a special treat, top to bottom service. I’ve no idea what was to blame for the unfortunate mechanical, perhaps the bike was damaged in transit after all?
And that’s me pretty much caught up and back on schedule. With Reg still convalescing, I was looking forward to a rare summer club run aboard the Peugeot, my winter bike.
I prepped the bike the night before and things were going well as I crossed the river and started backtracking down the valley. That was when my bottom bracket started to creak and complain.
By the time I started climbing out the other side, the creaking had turned into a full on chorus of complaints, as if a nest full of ever-hungry fledglings had taken up residence in my bottom bracket and were demanding to be fed.
A bit of tinkering gave temporary relief, but it wasn’t long before the hungry birds returned with a vengeance. I reluctantly pulled the pin and aborted the ride, turning back. Even if the bottom bracket had held up mechanically, I couldn’t ride with that cacophony as an accompaniment.
Home by 9.30, too late to join the club, but too early to call it a day, I pulled out my bike of last resort, the single-speed I use for commuting. I bravely and foolishly decided to head due-south, for a few loops around the Silver Hills, where I used to ride as a kid. You’d think I’d know better by now.
My ride profile shows the change, my clearly defined ride of two halves, as I went from relatively benign to brutally bumpy. This included a couple of 4th Category climbs with 25% gradients and lots of ragged, wet and gravel-strewn surfaces. Single-speed vs. Silver Hills is definitely an unequal contest, but I got a decent work-out and, to be honest, I quite enjoyed myself in an odd, masochistic and not-to-be-soon-repeated sort of way.
YTD Totals: 4,651 km / 2,890 miles with 62,397 metres of climbing
With special thanks for an assist and full naming rights to Mr. Steve Britton
More schizophrenic weather to confuse and bemuse the best of us, but this time veering as wildly as the Garrulous Kid in a sprint, all the way across onto the positive side of the ledger.
It was dry and bright, if still a little chilly and with a distinct raw edge to the wind. Still, it was deemed good enough to break out the Holdsworth, despite a route plan by Richard of Flanders that was issued with the warning that one leg would be down a farmyard track and good bikes were to be used at the riders peril.
Some level of fitness seems to be slowly returning too and I was looking forward to completing a relatively long ride, in relatively benign conditions.
The journey across to the meeting point was without incident, or note and I joined the already formed nucleus of what would turn into well-attended club run.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
I found Crazy Legs in the middle of discussing some of the finer functions on his turbo, “… and the blinking lights change from blue to red when your putting out more than 350 watts.”
I cocked a quizzical eyebrow at him.
“Or, at least that’s what I’ve read, anyway…”
The Garrulous Kid scorched in down the pavement, swerved violently to the right and came to a shuddering halt beside the grit bin.
“Just as well that wasn’t a turn to the left,” Taffy Steve told him, “or you’d have been in that bin headfirst.”
G-Dawg brought up the near sprint disaster from last Saturday, reciting the Garrulous Kids words back to him with a special emphasis on the last part, “Well, that’s what happens when you hit your knee off your bike, as you do?”
“As you do?” he repeated with incredulity, “I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t routinely knee my bike.”
He threw it open to the floor, but nobody else seemed to think kneeing your own bike was routine and should be an expected outcome of sprinting.
G-Dawg then reported back on the Bullocksteads sports development meeting he’d attended with OGL, reporting at one point the Chair had politely asked OGL to pipe down to give other people a chance to have a say.
“Well, did he?” some innocent asked the inevitable question.
“Well, yes, for about 5 minutes, anyway.”
Apparently one of our favoured routes out of the city was closed due to building works and others were clogged with construction traffic, mud and debris. Taking this into account, Richard of Flanders went around canvassing opinion and trying to build a consensus around one or other of the alternatives. In this he proved about as successful as Theresa May negotiating an acceptable Brexit deal. He finally realised the futility of his task, threw his hands up in exasperation and simply told us which route to take. Benevolent dictatorship, I tell you, it’s the way forward.
Richard of Flanders, often referred to as ROFL in my post-ride notes, which I find amusing, not ROFL amusing, but still chucklesome (sorry I digress) then leapt up onto the wall and described the route for the day, detailing every village, every burgh, every hamlet, every ville, settlement, outpost and commune we would pass by, through, or around.
It was a very extensive list and I didn’t know that half the places he mentioned actually exist (assuming they actually do).
“Then,” he continued, finally drawing breath, “Crazy Legs will entertain us in the cafe with some jokes, before the usual route back.”
“Can you repeat that, with just the highlights?” some wag asked.
Crazy Legs glanced at his watch as Richard started up again, “By the time he’s finished it’ll almost be time to head back home,” he quipped.
“Hey! Save it for the cafe,” I told him.
We split into two groups and then, there was just time for the Garrulous Kid to eye-up Plumose Pappus speculatively.
“Have you lost weight?” he demanded.
Whatever answer Plumose Pappus gave was lost in a fusillade of cleats clipping into pedals, like pistol shots from a drive-by shooting and we were out and onto the open roads.
I slotted in alongside Ovis for the first part of the ride out, checking he was carrying his usual brick of malt loaf and chatting about this, that and t’other.
After a couple of switches on the front, we were being led by the Garrulous Kid and the even younger Jake the Snake, the Young Dormanator, off the leash as his dad, Carlton was away in the Lakes. After a stint of manful work on the front, Jake the Snake started to falter as the road began to climb, so I slipped past to relieve him at the head of affairs and found myself alongside the Garrulous Kid.
Here I learned that the Garrulous Kid now fancies himself as a bit of a fastman and apparently has developed a new sprinting style, with his whole body hunched over his front wheel and nose inches from his tyre. Hmm, I think we need to revise the exclusion zone and allow him much more than the regulatory 2 metres now.
He’s also found a new cycling hero, Super Mario, Cipo, Il Re Leone, the Lion King himself, Mario the Magnificent, Mario Cipollini.
I must admit I’m failing to see any resemblance between the brash, pompous, colourful, swashbuckling, controversial, flamboyant, smooth, super-fast, successful, always superbly turned out, stylish Italian and our young tyro, well, other than the fact that neither is perhaps as good as they think they are and they’ve both managed to collect an impressive array of nicknames.
I like to think I have a decent imagination, but when I think of the Garrulous Kid sprinting, I can’t say I’m even remotely reminded of Mario Cipollini …
Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, though?
Now, that I can see…
I was so distracted by the Garrulous Kids revelations that I failed to notice a large pothole in the road and ran both wheels straight through it. Ooph! Behind me and following in my tracks about half a dozen other riders followed suit. Oops. Sorry guys.
Luckily nothing seemed damaged and we pushed on, finally reaching the turn for the Quarry, where we pulled over to wait for the second group, before splitting into several different rides.
As we waited, I caught up with the Colossus, one of the few still on his winter bike, which surprised me as he’ll typically chance a bike change in conditions I would consider marginal. He revealed though that it was only a logistical hiccup that kept him off the good bike today.
“Anyway,” he determined, “when the clocks go back next week it’s a bit of a watershed moment. After that, the default will be good bike unless the weather turns really bad.” Seems about right.
Perhaps the lack of summer bike encouraged the Colossus to head up the Quarry for a shorter ride to the cafe, along with others including G-Dawg, Ovis, Crazy Legs and the Garrulous Kid.
The rest of us were due to go plummeting down the Ryals before climbing back up toward the cafe, using various different routes. I turned around and tagged along for the longer ride.
A few people seemed intent on attacking the Ryal’s, but I was determined not to pedal if I didn’t have to, so tucked in low and just let gravity have its wicked way with me. I took advantage of a lack of cars and unimpeded views straight down the road, swinging wide across the centre line and running down the outside of our flying mob. I always enjoy this descent, and managed to top out at about 65 kph before sitting up and freewheeling as we started to coalesce into different groups at the bottom.
I like the climb up through Hallington almost as much as the descent, but Taffy Steve hates it and wanted to take in a longer loop around the reservoir instead, so that’s what we did.
As we started to clamber upwards again, Goose and Biden Fecht romped away off the front and I drifted back toward Taffy Steve, thinking there was just the four of us on this longer route, until more and more riders appeared and joined on.
I then found myself riding alongside the Ticker. “It’ll be good to get out of the wind,” he confessed.
“When are you thinking that’ll be?” I wondered, “mid-May?”
We reached a junction and regrouped before pushing on again. The route started to climb and once more Goose pushed off the front and opened up a sizable gap.”
“He’s flying today.”
Taffy Steve felt this probably had to do with him having pushed and pulled and grunted and gurned his way around all the winter club runs on his massive touring bike, the steel-behemoth, a.k.a. the panzerkampfwagen. Now with his svelte, carbon summer bike under him he must have felt unleashed and that riding was almost embarrassingly easy.
I pushed along on the front with Plumose Pappus and we caught up with Goose on Humiliation Hill. We crested the top and took a right toward Capheaton, pausing briefly to collect our group together again.
The road across the top here is fast, rolling and good fun, so we kicked up the pace and strung everyone out. As we worked toward the summit of one long rise, Plumose Pappus suggested he was just about on the limit. Goose wasn’t though and went romping on ahead and we couldn’t close him down until we approached the crossroads at the end.
Once more we stopped to regroup and determine what everyone wanted to do. Straight across, the road followed the planned route down to a farm track, while to the right, our usual way, led down toward the Snake Bends and then on to the cafe.
I think a few braved the farm track and reported it was a good option, but, with the hint of cake and coffee in my nostrils, I was happy to take the more direct run in.
We had one last climb to break things up a little, the short but steep Brandywell Bank, so I tried to select the biggest gear I thought I could keep churning over as my momentum died a horrible death … and attacked at the bottom.
It almost went to plan, but the gear was just a shade too big and I had to dig in and grind the final few metres. Still, I made it over the crest at the head of affairs and, without pausing, or checking to see who was with me, started hammering away down toward the Snake Bends.
I clunked my chain down the cassette and powered on. My first goal was still to be leading as we topped the slight rise before, finally, the road starts to dip. It’s not noticeable enough to call a climb, it just feels like one when your already dangerously close to your max.
I made it and as the road started to drop down the other side, clunked the chain down a few more cogs and took up position in the middle of the road, riding the white lines where the surface wasn’t quite as broken up and roughened.
Goal number two was now to still be leading as we passed the final junction and the descent started to level off. I made it unchallenged and kept going, hammering toward a puddle which filled the entirety of the inside lane.
I heard a warning shout from those behind which I interpreted as car back, but I swung wide, into the opposite lane anyway and held my line until I was past the water, before carving back toward the left.
This elicited a startled yelp from Biden Fecht, who I nearly put into the hedge as he was charging unseen up my inside. He was momentarily distracted and hesitated, as Plumose Pappuss jumped away on the other side of me, with Archie Miedes glued on his wheel.
Biden Fecht tried to give chase, but his moment of hesitation proved decisive and he soon sat up. Up ahead and despite extended spells on the front, Plumose Pappuss seemed to have the measure of his challenger in the final sprint.
The Flying Goose caught us at the busy junction through the Snake Bends and then it was back on pace, all the way to the cafe.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
Princess Fiona joined us at the table and expounded the virtues of an Open Water Swimming holiday, hopping from island to island, in Croatia.
This was too much for Taffy Steve, already deeply suspicious of anyone choosing to have a holiday that included physical hurt, ridiculous amounts of exercise and excess amounts of discomfort. He can’t for example get his head around our cycling sojourn’s into the Alps or Pyrenees, especially when we have somewhere nice and flat like the Netherlands practically on our doorstep. An open water swimming holiday somehow seemed especially mad.
The absent Carlton was mentioned as someone who has sometimes been known to tour the Alps by bike.
“He’s a mentalist too,” Taffy Steve concluded.
“I think they prefer the term psychiatrist these days,” I suggested.
“That’s going in the blerg, isn’t it?” Buster suggested.
(Well, I would hate to disappoint).
Talk turned to the Garrulous Kid with Taffy Steve claiming he was a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside a Castelli jacket. As evidence, he cited last week when the Garrulous Kid was unnecessarily ripping everyone’s legs off in a small group and then, this week, totally wimping out and going for the shorter ride.
“He’s like a woman,” Taffy Steve concluded, “I don’t understand them and I don’t understand him at all.”
Next to me, Princess Fiona bristled and sprang to the defence of women everywhere.
Opposite, Zardoz mimed digging a hole, while nonchalantly whistling Bernard Cribbens’ Hole in the Ground:
“There I was, a-digging this hole A hole in the ground, so big and sort of round it was …”
“I’m just saying, I live with four women and they’re all bat-shit crazy.” Taffy Steve lined each one up in turn and gave us chapter and verse about their individual idiosyncrasies, complaining it was bad enough they were all bat-shit crazy, but even worse, there was no consistency and they were all bat-shit crazy in different and unfathomable ways.
Zardoz was still digging. Still whistling.
“There was I, digging it deep It was flat at at the bottom and the sides were steep.”
“I hope you don’t talk to them like that,” Princess Fiona admonished.
“Oh, I’m forever telling then they’re all fucking crazy,” Taffy Steve assured her.
He was taken to task for using the F-bomb so cavalierly, while Taffy Steve defended his word choice as adding colour, inflection and punctuation, besides which, he argued it was almost affectionate in its deployment.
“You wouldn’t talk to your daughters like that, would you?” Princess Fiona asked me.
“Well, no,” I affirmed, “but they’d probably use much worse language to me.”
“Well, if my son used such language … I’d … I’d call him out for disrespecting me.”
“Ooph!,” Taffy Steve drew back in alarm, “It’s a bit early to be deploying the D-bomb!” Like going from DEFCON 5 to DEFCON 1 with none of the stages in-between.
Thankfully a change in topic was in the offing, as Princess Fiona turned to Plumose Pappus.
“Have you lost weight?” she demanded.
As we were leaving the cafe, Zardoz started asking me if I’d lost weight. I couldn’t lie, told him it was all down to the whalebone cycling corset and left it at that.
I caught up with Plumosue Pappus, who admitted to being a little nonplussed that everyone thought he’d lost weight, when he patently hasn’t any to lose and considers himself to have the appetite of your average student, i.e. voracious and perpetually unsatisfied.
Back with his parents for his postgraduate study, he’s intent on eating double his own body weight every day and recounted being caught by his mum making two sandwiches. She thought it was sweet he’d taken time to make a packed lunch for her and he didn’t have the heart to tell her that they were actually both for him.
He also said he was younger brother was much taller, broader and heavier. In fact, suspiciously taller, broader and heavier, to such an extent that Plumose Pappus wonders if his brother is perhaps a cuckoo, or has been adopted.
I don’t like casting aspersions, but did have to query if perhaps it was Plumose Pappus who was the cuckoo…
Anyway, he concluded that the reason people thought he’d lost weight was the switch from bulky winter jackets to thinner, more form fitting summer gear. He then decided that whatever it is fashionista’s tell their acolytes to wear in order to appear slimmer, he’s going to wear the exact opposite. So, I look forward to a range of dazzling, multi-patterned cycling shorts, chunky shoes and light coloured jersey’s with multiple horizontal bands!
There was the usual split on Berwick Hill, Plumose Pappus escaped up the outside to join the front-runners, but I was content to tag along at the back.
Toward Dinnington though, we picked up Caracol who’d dropped out of the front group for a pee. Over the airport, I hit the front of the group and accelerated, pulling him clear. He then took over to pull me through the Mad Mile at pace and catapult me on my way home.
Good ride, good route, good banter, decent weather and another 70-miler tucked away. Thing’s are looking up.
YTD Totals: 1,860 km / 1,0156 miles with 25,338 metres of climbing
The freakishly mild weather has added a new and unwelcome dimension to my personal prevarications, I now not only have to wrestle with critical clothing choices, but even the most basic, fundamental issue of which bike to ride.
I can’t remember ever riding the summer bike in February, but I did last week and once the genie is out of the bottle, it becomes much harder to entice it back in again. Friday night then saw me prepping both the Holdsworth and Peugeot for potential deployment on Saturday, depending on what the morning brought.
10 minutes before leaving I still hadn’t settled on a bike, which was bad news as I didn’t know which shoes to pull on. The ground looked dry and the sky was clear, but it may have rained elsewhere along our route and the forecast highlighted the potential for infrequent light showers.
Aagh! The Master of Prevarication strikes again.
No, come on, you’re a grown man, make a decision and live with the consequences. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen, Reg might get a bid muddy and wet, but he’s not some effete, cossetted Ribble. Beside, if you’re going to flaunt Flandrian colours, you should expect to enjoy a bit of mud and rain occasionally. So two weeks in a row I get an early Easter present and the chance to ride “the good bike.”
While it still seems too early for good bikes, perhaps it really is that time of year already. Alternatively, maybe the flowers too are confused by the freakishly mild weather. Whatever the reason, the verges are already studded with bright yellow, purple and white crocuses and, here and there, a few premature daffodils have raised their frilly periscopes to check out the conditions.
I swooped down toward the river just as the barriers of the level crossing raised their arms in salute, catching and passing a fellow cyclist who somehow seemed offended by my cheery good morning as I slipped past.
He accelerated to sit huffing and puffing away on my rear wheel all the way to the bridge. I stopped as the lights turned red, but he simply accelerated down the span. Each to his own, but I couldn’t help feeling it was more luck than good judgement that he didn’t meet an impatient driver coming the other way, though.
From there it was all plain sailing and it wasn’t long before I was rolling up to the meeting point.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
Taffy Steve immediately took me to task for not describing in minute detail the magical epiphany that accompanies the change from winter bike to summer bike – even if I had to repeat everything I said the year before … and the year before that (and potentially even the year before that.)
Even though he knows it’s coming, like me he’s still amazed by the difference in feel and heft when he swaps his thrice-cursed winter bike of pig iron (pig aluminium?) for the lightweight titanium love-child. Such an important stage in the natural, evolution of the cyclists year, he argues, requires the ritual description of the clouds parting, pillars of golden light blazing down and the angelic singing of the heavenly hosts.
Almost as good as swapping winter bike for summer version, the Garrulous Kid has finally had his Focus Cayo serviced and new cassette, chain, bottom bracket, cables and brake blocks fitted. He insisted everyone admire his newly restored bike and, to be fair, given his past record we might as well imprint it on our memories now, because it won’t look this good until after its next service.
G-Dawg wondered why he hadn’t gone for a black chain with red highlights, like Jimmy Mac’s, but why pay for it, in a week or two his chain will be suitably black, once it had the chance to build up that sticky, oily, coating of protective black grunge again.
By way of contrast, the similarly aged Monkey Butler Boy and Archie Miedes spent the first 5 minutes cleaning and polishing off the mud and crud that had accumulated on their bikes just on their way across to the meeting point.
Szell was out (for the first time this year?) prompting Crazy Legs to enquire if the chrysalis had broken and then checking to ensure that Middleton Bank was definitely planned on our itinerary, with instructions to put it in if it wasn’t there already.
Jimmy Mac outlined the route for the day and had us split into two groups, somehow conspiring to get G-Dawg to take the second group so he could have fun at the front.
As this first group rode out, I tagged onto the back and was joined by Benedict. After the first couple of miles he declared it was a much more civilised and relaxing way to start the ride, rather than giving them a head-start and then hammering away, trying to catch up as we’d done last week.
The boys were feisty today though and we set off at such an infernal pace, I’m not sure we’d have managed bridge across if we had delayed. I netted 14 Strava PR’s in the first 30km alone, as Jimmy Mac, Kermit, Andeven, Rainman and others conspired to propel the group along at breakneck speed.
At one point, as we started to lose riders out the back on a climb, I told Jimmy Mac I didn’t think the pace was sustainable … but we sustained it anyway. In this way the first handful of miles passed under our wheels in a blur, without pause or let-up and no lack of pain.
Just past Mitford, the Garrulous Kid engineered a solo break and, as we started to close in on our traditional stop point at Dyke Neuk, Biden Fecht decided to close him down and piled more speed on top of speed. All this over a road that most definitely resides amongst my least favourites
Still, the catch was made and then we hammered up to the Dyke Neuk Inn to stop, catch our breath and patch our splintered group back together. There we settled in to wait for our second group to join us – given our pace, I suspected it would take much longer than usual.
We were disappointed to find the banana plantations we were secretly cultivating in the area had failed to take root. Still, there’s time yet.
As we waited, we were entertained by the Monkey Butler Boy describing being chased by “the Bizzies.”
“The Bizzies?” we wondered.
The obvious question wasn’t why the Monkey Butler Boy and his associates might find themselves attracting the interest of the boys in blue, but when and how Wallsend had been transported from Tyneside to Merseyside?
The first false alarm in our wait was the appearance of a group of cyclists, who turned out to be an NTR splinter cell. They reported no sign of our second group, despite travelling up the same roads we expected them to use on their approach.
The second false-alarm was the appearance of Big Dunc, who we thought might be the vanguard of the second group, until he admitted he’d left them for a sneaky short-cut.
Finally the second group arrived and I learned I’d missed a round of Leo Sayer ear-worms that Crazy Legs, the Ticker and Taffy Steve had inflicted on each other – You Make me Feel Like Dancing, One Man Band and The Show Must Go On.
Crazy Legs had only managed to banish this insane indignity by recalling the Breakaway song – apparently not the Art Garfunkel/Gallagher and Lyle number, but the advertising jingle for Breakaway Biscuits.
I couldn’t remember that particular ad and my Sutherland’s Spread recollection (Sutherland’s, Sutherland’s scrumptious Sutherland’s, spread on sumptuous Sutherland’s spread …) fell on deaf ears, so I pulled the pin on a “When I Need You” labelled, Leo Sayer grenade, rolled it into the middle of the group and rode off.
Away we went again, almost instinctively falling into the original two groups, causing Crazy Legs to bark with laughter and wonder why the first group had even bothered to wait. Can’t say he didn’t have a point, although we did manage to steal G-Dawg away from the second group.
Around the next corner though, we ran into a surprisingly strong headwind and Carlton, on the front of the second group, put in a huge effort dragging everyone across the gap so they could find a bit of shelter.
We stayed together through the swoop and clamber through Hartburn, before some took a left, while the rest pushed on to Scots Gap and coalesced into two distinct groups.
Archie Miedes then hit the front and seemed intent on shredding the legs of all us old blokes, driving us on towards Scots Gap. “It’s been this mad all morning,” I managed to gasp at G-Dawg as we ripped along.
Archie Miedes ceded the front as we pushed through Scot’s Gap, but as we took the wide, right turn toward Middleton Bank, the speed obviously wasn’t fast enough for his liking, so he pushed onto the front and ramped up the pace again.
Everyone seemed to be going at full gas on the descent to the climb and I tucked in and hunkered down, trying to surf the slipstreams and freewheel enough to recover a little. As we approached the climb itself, I couldn’t help thinking that this was going to hurt and I’d struggle to hang on. Then Archie Miedes pulled up lame … or with a puncture anyway … and suddenly the pace and urgency evaporated.
With enough people back-tracking to help out the puncture victim, I decided to push on to the top of the hill at a more leisurely pace, thinking I’d get it over with before stopping to regroup.
I picked up Biden Fecht on the way and he decided it was a reasonable plan, kicking away up the hill while I took it at a much more considered and relaxed pootle.
Rainman obviously had the same idea and passed me on the way up. “That’s the most pleasant ride I’ve ever had up here,” I declared as I joined the pair now waiting at the entrance to the farm at the top of the hill.
Without the blood-pounding, tunnel-vision and screaming legs of a full on assault of the slope, it was quite a gentle, easy ascent and a completely different experience.
“I could actually hear birds singing all the way up,” Biden Fecht revealed cheerfully.
“And I didn’t even know there was a farm here,” Rainman added.
As we waited, chatting, Kermit clambered past, intent on pushing straight onto the cafe. With repairs well in hand at the bottom of the hill and nothing we could add to proceedings, we decided to follow and joined him.
We pushed on with a slightly ragged through-and-off, building up our speed until once again my legs were screaming, my lungs burning and I was just about hanging on. I was, in the Ticker’s profound words, proper paggered as we hit the bottom of the Rollers …
… so I attacked.
Tradition. It’s not to be taken lightly, so I felt I had no choice in the matter.
I almost had a gap, but couldn’t sustain it over the third and fourth humps, succeeding only in distancing Kermit, battling bravely, but severely handicapped riding his winter bike.
Rainman shot past and away and I tagged onto Biden Fecht’s wheel as he set off in pursuit, hanging there until the final climb, when he put in a big dig to bring back Rainman. It fell just short of its target, but left me trailing.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee shop:
Once again we determined that we could probably get away with sitting outside, proof if ever it’s needed that you can’t accurately judge ambient temperature following a mile long uphill sprint.
It was a bit chilly, but after some prevarication we stuck it out. Following our example we were joined by most of the later arrivals until we had two bench tables filled on either side. It was a comradely, misery loves company type of collective suffering and I’m not convinced there was any benefit from shared body heat.
Crazy Legs arrived sat down and then shot up again with cramp in his foot. He kicked off a boot and clambered onto the bench, bouncing on his toes to try and ease the pain. As he towered over me I was waiting for a “O Captain, my Captain” moment, but he wasn’t in the mood for channelling Walt Whitman and all I got was a minuscule, cramp-inspired whimper instead of a mighty, barbaric yawp.
The last group to arrive escorted Archie Miedes home and we learned his tyres belonged amongst the ranks of those that seem almost impossibly hard to remove and replace.
We also learned that Archie Miedes had earned himself an everlasting place in the Hall of Shame, reserved for those who go out for a ride without the means and wherewithal to repair a simple puncture. It’s not a good place to be, but he’s in there with some surprisingly illustrious and esteemed company.
To prove his new found maturity, the Garrulous Kid proudly announced he, at least, was now carrying both a spare tube and tyre levers. No pump though, or CO2 canister, so I’m not exactly sure if that actually makes him more, or less foolhardy.
Crazy Legs recalled the day one of our former riders, Arnold, became inducted into the Hall of Shame. He’d punctured the week before and broken his pump, which was fortuitous timing as it was coming up to his birthday and he was struggling to think of anything he wanted as a present.
The following Saturday he punctured again and, shamefacedly had to admit he didn’t have the means and wherewithal to repair a simple puncture, flagging down Crazy Legs to ask for a pump to borrow.
“I thought you were getting a new pump for your birthday?” a perplexed Crazy Legs had asked.
“I am. My wife’s already bought it, but I’m not allowed to use it because my actual birthday’s not until tomorrow,” Arnold had ruefully replied.
This reminded me of (surely an urban myth) the story of a new season-ticket holder at Newcastle, who’d been surprised the seat beside him remained empty, game, after game, after game. With a reportedly long waiting list for tickets he’d enquired if perhaps the seat was available to purchase only to be told it definitely had an owner.
When said owner finally turned up, he’d informed his new neighbour not to enquire why he’d missed so many games, but finally relented to reveal he’d his wife had bought the season ticket for a Christmas present …
Just about everything we discussed then paled into insignificance by the highlight of the day, or maybe month, or perhaps even the year. This was the rather startling declaration from the Garrulous Kid – and I quote him exactly here so there’s no misunderstanding –
“I share a bath with my sister.”
Yes, well, hmmm. Moving swiftly on …
After such a blockbuster revelation, everyone was ready to go, with some riders turning left from the cafe for a slightly longer return ride. I took the usual right, keen to get home and catch the start of the Classics and the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Proper bike racing has finally started again.
I dropped in alongside Jimmy Mac as we turned off the main road onto the lanes.
My Garmin has just told me it’s battery is low,” he started, “and suggested I switch it to Power-Saving Mode. So I did and it just turned itself off completely!”
Well, we had to admit, that was the ultimate power-saving mode and his Garmin would probably retain its limited charge for days now, if not weeks.
“Let’s keep it together up the climb,” OGL called as we approached the bottom of Berwick Hill. As if on cue, G-Dawg and the Garrulous Kid immediately surged off the front and chased each other up the hill.
I accelerated to track them, pulling those with the legs left to follow upwards. As I caught up with a grinning G-Dawg on the reverse slope, he predicted a Facebook rant about group riding etiquette sometime that night.
He wasn’t to be disappointed.
We pushed on into the Mad Mile side by side, both commenting on the sudden, stiff headwind that appeared to have been lying in wait until just that very moment. So, it’s back to that is it? Great.
Let’s see what next week brings.
YTD Totals: 1,353 km / 841 miles with 18,447 metres of climbing
As we approached the weekend, it was Aether’s turn to post up our route for Saturday’s club run, with the weather forecast looked like holding mild and dry for the second weekend in a row.
“I smell carbon,” Jimmy Mac’s message flashed back almost immediately.
And so he could.
And, ye verily, so it was to be…
I suspected there would be few winter bikes out and I was more than happy to join in with the masses, lifting the Holdsworth out of its cotton-wool wrappings, polishing up it’s bright, garish and shiny surfaces and topping up the tyres
Time to join the fun.
Saturday wasn’t quite as warm as I expected. Having sweltered on my commute from work on Friday in a long sleeved journey, bibtights and a base layer, I’d gone for a short-sleeved jersey, arm warmers and legwarmers and found its disappointingly chilly first thing.
It was cold enough for me to pull on a windproof jacket for the jaunt across to the meeting point and I really noticed the difference in swapping winter boots for ruby red slippers – I could have done with some Belgian Booties as, for the first time all winter my toes were cold.
Still, the ride across was a pleasure and I enjoyed the different kind of feel even a modest, carbon-framed bike gives. I won’t describe it in detail, I did that last year and, rather embarrassingly, found I’d written pretty much the exact same thing the year before that. But, if you don’t regularly ride a winter bike, you may never appreciate this change – it’s a life-affirming moment and a bit like getting a new bike every year.
Anyway, suffice to say that both bike and rider appeared at the meeting point in good time and in good order and one of them was wearing a stupid, seemingly permanent grin.
Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point:
Having been absent a couple of weeks with an ingrown toenail, the Monkey Butler Boy was back with us. I sidled up to him, put my cleat over the toe of his shoe and pressed down.
“What ya deeing, man?” he wondered and then, when he realised exactly what I was doing, “Ha-ha, wrong foot.”
I might have been forgiven, but my apparently dirty cleat left a barely discernible impression on his newly restored, gleaming white shoe.
This sent the Monkey Butler Boy scurrying to his tool tub, from which he extracted a dubbin-impregnated cloth and proceeded to polish his shoes to clean of my offending marks.
While the Monkey Butler Boy was distracted, one of his mini-me’s turned up and started jabbering away at him enthusiastically. I listened intently to the discourse, but all I heard was a strange chittering interspersed with a series of high-pitched squeaks and chirrups, like a dolphin on helium.
“I didn’t understand a word of that,” I admitted resignedly to Crazy Legs.
“No, neither did I, but it does seem to have attracted the attention of all the dogs in a 50 metre radius,” he replied.
Meanwhile, the Monkey Butler Boy seemed to have no issue understanding and conversing with the youngster, while I looked on, still befuddled. I felt like I was watching a younger version of Father Ted’s Monkey Priest.
Aether briefed in the route, we split into two and G-Dawg led the first group out.
I counted them off as they bumped down the kerb one by one. For once we seemed to have the split just about right.
“In the second group, on your good bike?” Crazy Legs enquired, somewhat surprised.
He was right, this was a wasted opportunity, a few moments more prevarication and then it was my turn to bump down the kerb, accelerate smartly toward our front group … and haul on the anchors as the traffic lights changed to red and they slipped away.
The rest of the second group caught me up, while I stood waiting for the lights to change.
“Well, that must be the first time someone’s actually been dropped in the bus station,” Taffy Steve announced drolly.
The light finally changed to green and Benedict shot away, seemingly intent on catching the first group too. I dived onto his wheel and we began our mad pursuit, even though I had a horrible vision of being caught in limbo, between group 1 and 2.
As we hit the Broadway, I nudged onto the front. Andeven’s blinking rear light finally materialised in front of us, at least we now had sight of our quarry and could see we were visibly closing. Encouraged, we pressed harder and as the front group started to slow for more traffic lights, Benedict surged across the gap and towed me onto the back.
Well, that’s an interesting way to start a group ride, but at least it warmed me up a little. I hung at the back trying to recover from the effort as we pushed on and out into the countryside.
I took the opportunity of the first real climb to move forward in the group and found myself riding along beside Goose, whose ever fulminating brain was working out how he could fit a gyroscope inside his wheel hub. The idea was this would somehow be charged up while riding and come into play whenever you stopped, keeping the bike upright without all the faffing of trying to do a track-stand, or the ultimate embarrassment of failing to do a track stand and toppling slowly over.
We passed a pair of cyclists as Rab Dee and the Colossus finally swung off the front after a sterling first stint and I thought nothing more of it as our front pair drifted past me and latched onto the back.
A few more changes at the front and a few more miles under or wheels, then Goose was calling a halt for a mechanical, after a strange metallic rattling started to emanate from the rear of his bike. We stopped and he found that, unlike normal bikes, his touring, steel behemoth had two spare spokes in a little holder on his chainstay. One of these spokes had worked loose and it was this that was causing the rattle.
Rather than trying to fit the spoke back into its holder, or throw it away in a hedge, Goose decided to stick the errant spoke in his back pocket, seemingly unfazed by our concern that, should he come off, he could end up skewered on his own spoke – possibly the cycling equivalent to being hoist by your own petard.
We pressed on through Fenwick and Matfen and I found myself riding beside the Colossus, who pointed out to two cyclists up ahead. Apparently when he dropped off the front with Rab Dee, they’d inadvertently rejoined behind this pair, trapping them within or group and forcing them to travel wherever we wanted to go and at whatever speed we chose to set. They’d only managed to break free when we stopped for Goose’s mechanical, but now we were closing them down on a climb and there was a real danger they’d be swept up and carried away again.
Luckily we turned off toward the village of Ryal and they escaped to fight another day. We climbed up to the village and called a halt to regroup and let everyone berate the Garrulous Kid for having such a filthy bike. It was such a comprehensive beasting that we were still there 10 minutes later when the second group arrived for an unscheduled club reformation.
With no one tempted to head down and then back up the Ryals, we all set a course for the Quarry. At the top the plan was to swing left and then follow an additional loop toward Capheaton, where there was the opportunity to return to the main road, or follow a gated track toward the cafe.
The first deviation came at the top of the Quarry, when the Garrulous Kid announced he was going right, instead of left. He suggested his decision was forced by a badly creaking bottom-bracket, but to be honest, despite exemplary Teutonic engineering of the very highest order, his bike’s been making those kind of distressed, whimpering noises since early October.
What then would explain his strange and sudden defection, before he’d even had a chance to renew his sprinting battle with the Colossus?
It was at this point I noticed Goose still had his errant, naked spoke poking baldly up out of his jersey pocket and recalled Plumose Pappus’s suggestion last week, that we all gang up and dispatch the Garrulous Kid by impaling him on spokes. Had the Garrulous Kid seen Goose’s spoke and thought the plot was in motion? Had he taken both fright and flight so as not to end up being Kerplunked and abandoned at the side of the road?
“Et tu, Goose?” might he have asked, bleeding from more spoke holes than you’d find in a heavy duty touring rim.
We may never know.
At the top of our little extended loop everyone decided that the combination of good summer bikes and a gated farm track probably wasn’t a great idea, so we stuck to the road that would lead us back to the Snake Bends and the cafe.
I pushed on at the front and had started up Brandywell Bank, when I heard the distinctive swash, swash, swash behind me, as someone on carbon wheels came powering up the short, but horribly steep climb in a massive gear.
“Swash, swash, swash,” I said in response.
“Guess who?” G-Dawg asked.
Oh, hold on, let me think …
Still on the front I tried to provide a fast lead out for the sprint, hammering away over the drop toward the Snake Bends and managing to hold a reasonable, if modest pace until someone finally attacked and I could ease back.
I dropped back through the second group, before managing to recover slightly to lead home the also-rans.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
After threatening last week, the promise was fulfilled this time and we escaped a crowded cafe to find seats outside in the garden. In February? It was cool, but not unpleasant.
Aether reported that he’d tried to join the motley ranks of angry (but warm handed) rockhoppers and invested in some Planet X lobster mitts. In fact, he told us, he now had two pairs as he didn’t know which size to get, the Large or Extra Large. The trouble was both were too small.
“Yeah, they are in fact identical,” the Colossus assured him, “the only difference is what size label they stick on them.”
Caracol had his own fair share of glove buying issues, having measured his hands following the instructions on one web site and found that lengthwise he was recommended to buy Extra Large, but the recommended width fitting was Small.
Talk turned to my crash last week and how it takes a particular kind of idiot to ride into a kerb, even when the kerb suddenly erupts with no reason out of a road surface. No excuses, guilty as charged, M’lud.
We once again had a discussion about the apparent lack of logic behind many cycling routes and how they seem to be designed by people who’ve never actually ridden a bike. Luckily Caracol was on hand to provide the necessary technical insight.
“You do know how to tell the difference between a cycle path and a cycle lane, don’t you?” he asked.
“A cycle lane’s where you park your car, a cycle path’s where you walk the dog.”
Seems about right.
At some point in our sojourn dans l’herbe, Buster rolled up, being a complete slacker and having enjoyed a very relaxed morning in bed, before finally stirring to ride directly to the cafe. Given the minimal effort in getting there I’m not sure he deserved the giant sized portion of cake he was devouring.
He mentioned that just as I was falling off, not far from Pigdon last week (That? Again?) a 63 year old cyclist was found after being subjected to a nasty hit and run in the same area, with the police now appealing for witnesses.
Buster informed us the victim was an ex-racer, good friend and protege of OGL who’d apparently once ridden under the moniker of the Flying Pitman. Being a smart arse, I had to ask if this was before, or after his numerous appearances on Top of the Pops as part of an a capella group of dodgy looking miscreants. I think I actually managed to inflict an ear worm on G-Dawg, which was a bit of a surprise as I didn’t think he sang.
[I understand the cyclist is now out of critical condition and recovering, but suffered a major head injury and cannot remember anything about the incident.]
The Garrulous Kid wandered up and tried to persuade us he was fully house-trained, completely domesticated and would be perfectly capable of looking after himself once he cut mummy’s apron-strings. Seeking some substance to this claim, someone asked him how he would go about doing the ironing,
“Well, first I’d boil the kettle …”
“Eh? What for?”
“To fill the iron.”
“Would you turn on the toaster before doing some laundry?” the Colossus wondered.
I’m not sure he’s quite as prepared as he thinks he is.
A few were starting to pack up to leave and the Garrulous Kid made to go with them.
“When you get onto the lane to Ogle, call back and let us know how muddy it is,” G-Dawg asked him, thinking about protecting his bike from further abuse.
“Yep, let us know how deep is your mud?” I added.
“Eh?” the Garrulous Kid replied smartly.
“How deep is your mud?”
“What? I don’t understand.”
He was a lost cause, I only wish Crazy Legs had been present, I would have had him singing Bee-Gees songs all the way home.
It was still too early for G-Dawg and the Colossus to head back but I had no objections to getting home a little earlier, so saddled up and left with what turned out to be our second group on the road.
I fell in alongside the Red Max, trailing the Monkey Butler Boy, who’d been one of a handful who’d opted for shorts on the day. The Red Max revealed this had been no simple decision, as the Monkey Butler Boy had to first apply fake tan to his legs so they didn’t look too pale. Or, to be more precise, at least to the bits of leg between the top of his socks and where his shorts ended. Fake tan lines! Who’d have guessed there’d ever be such a thing …
He then drew my attention to the Monkey Butler Boy’s chainrings, where he’d filled the gap between the arms with strips of electricians tape as, apparently, this is more “aero”.
Slightly flummoxed by this, I could only suggest that at least he’d made a fairly neat job of it.
“I’m not sure about that,” the Rex Max retorted.
“Well, I only mean’t in comparison to the last time he changed his bar tape,” I qualified, remembering how the Monkey Butler Boy had once turned up with handlebars resembling a snake caught midway through shedding its own skin.
The pace accelerated up Berwick Hill, then, after the climb to Dinnington, I pushed onto the front alongside the Cow Ranger. Rounding a corner, a small knot of cyclists came into view.
“Target acquired!” the Red Max intoned, “Engage.”
As one we quickened our pace and began to chase. Having been sat on the front most of the way back, the Cow Ranger excused himself from the front and drifted back. Almost immediately he was replaced by Biden Fecht and we kicked the speed up another notch.
Up past the airport and the distance to the front group was shrinking noticeably now. The Monkey Butler Boy hammered into the gap and we all followed, catching and blowing straight past what turned out to be a bunch of our early-leavers from the cafe.
That set me up for a blast through the Mad Mile and a decent pace all the way home, for the first time in weeks unhampered by any headwinds and free to enjoy both bike and weather.
YTD Totals: 1,187 km / 738 miles with 16,353 metres of climbing.
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.
“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.
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.
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.