Half Man Half Mudlark

Half Man Half Mudlark

Club Run, Saturday 24th November, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

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

Ride Profile

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

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

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

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


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, but it isn’t 9 o’clock.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Damn fine coffee.


Main Topics of Conversation – Coffee Stop#1

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Main Topics of Conversation – Coffee Stop#2

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone?


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

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Brutal

Brutal

Club Run, Saturday 27h October, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  90 km / 56 miles with 967 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          3 hours 48 minute

Average Speed:                                23.6 km/h

Group size:                                         8-9-8-7-6-5

Temperature:                                    6°C

Weather in a word or two:          Brutal then balmy


brutal
Ride Profile


Honestly, I just think the weather’s playing mind-games with me now. The morning last week dawned bright gorgeous, warm and dry, as if to make up for the Saturday before when it rained incessantly for most of the day. This week, it was back to freezing cold, wet and utterly miserable.

In fact as I sat down to breakfast and looked out of the window the icy rain changed suddenly to fat flakes of pelting snow that even started to lie, despite the garden being thoroughly sodden.

To cap it all, I was late leaving, in part because I was hoping for a break in the weather, or at least an easing of the conditions. The other reason was a last minute panic, as I decided to swap all the carefully considered, wet-weather gear, for cold and wet-weather gear.

As a consequence, I didn’t get going until after 8.20, a time when I’m more normally approaching the bridge, 3 or so miles upriver. This I recognised as time I would really struggle to make-up, so I needed a Plan-B.

The alternative crossing, a closer, but busier bridge, could be reached fairly quickly and directly, but via a fairly unpalatable and somewhat risky ride down a dual-carriageway, typically full of speeding cars and dotted with massive multi-lane roundabouts. That didn’t seem a sensible option on a day when visibility was likely to be restricted by both the dark and dismal weather and the massive waves of spray the cars were going to be kicking up.

I was however fairly confident I could use local bike tracks and woodland trails to work my way around to the bridge on safer, less travelled routes, as long as I didn’t mind a little off-road adventure. This then became Plan-B.

Lights on and blinking away furiously, front and back, I dropped down the Heinous Hill. Shorts and leg warmers already soaked with icy rain and spray by the time I hit the bottom. This was not going to be pleasant. A sharp right, past the old cricket ground and I found a bike trail, heading, more or less, in the right direction.

My front light was designed more so people could see me, than for lighting my path, so I had to trust to blind luck that the trail was mostly clear, as I picked my way through the shadowed and gloomy woods.

A carpet of yellowed, fallen leaves helped provide a bit of contrast and highlighted the way ahead, but they were also wet and slippery and occasionally hid the menace of a low ridge thrown up across the track by a wandering tree root. I didn’t dare go too fast, but at least I felt I was making progress.

I crossed the River Derwent on a narrow, single-track bridge, apparently waking a huge, statuesque heron, standing stilt-egged in the middle of the stream. It raised its head to glare at me through one beady yellow eye, but otherwise remained completely unperturbed by my passage.

Out of the woods, the trail ran alongside the river, as it meandered its way toward the Tyne. Things seemed to be going to plan, until the trail stopped at a closed metal gate. I dismounted and peered over. The trail continued on the other side, but only after crossing the railway lines. I slipped through the gate, picked the bike up, peered into the gloom for approaching trains (it was far too wet and cold to press my ear to the rail, Tonto style) and scuttled across.

I was on gravel and tarmac now, the road winding past a boating club, where a bloke stood out in the freezing rain in just shorts and a T-shirt, drawing desperately on an E-cigarette and emitting impressively huge clouds of vapour. Perhaps vaping provide some inner warmth along with a lungful of noxious chemicals? Maybe I should try it.

Finally, the trail deposited me at the foot of the bridge and I used the pavement to cross. Now all I had to do was navigate 6 lanes of traffic and a busy roundabout. I spotted a subway entrance and dived down. My lights were feeble in the enfolding darkness and I had no idea what I was riding through, but I made it out the other side amidst much rustling, crackling and several disturbing, sharp snaps of something giving way beneath my tyres.

One more subway, a skid up and over a grassy bank and I was onto familiar roads and climbing out the other side of the valley, back on time, unscathed and remarkably puncture free.

The rain started to ease a little as I approached the meeting point, but I was probably already as wet as I was going to get and devilishly cold.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Huddled in the gloom of the multi-storey car-park I found a very select few; OGL, G-Dawg, the Garrulous Kid and Rollocks. Crazy Legs and Buster were the next to arrive and then finally Taffy Steve appeared in a burst of retina blasting, epilepsy-inducing commuter lights. This was to be it then, with the solitary addition of the Colossus, who was running late and would intercept us somewhere along the route.

G-Dawg had a new addition to his fixie – a brass bell clamped securely to his handlebars, perhaps in case he’s ever possessed by the ghost of  Charlie Allinston  and finds himself engaged in some wanton and furious driving. He explain that he’d been given an Edinburgh Cycles gift certificate and the bell was the only thing he could find that he wanted … in the entire shop! 

“It’s cold.” The Garrulous Kid complained.

“But, it’s warming up,” G-Dawg countered

“Yeah, the temperatures up from 2° to 3°,” I agreed.

“See,” G-Dawg argued, “We’ve had a 50% rise already.”

I tsked at the Garrulous Kid, still on his best bike and missing even rudimentary mudguards.

“Don’t need them,” he argued, pointing to the solid infill of his seat stays above the brake bridge, “I’ve got this.”

“Well, it might just about keep the top of your seat tube dry,” unsurprisingly, G-Dawg didn’t seem at all convinced.

OGL was busy investigating the bike lockers that have recently appeared in the car park, testing the doors and trying to peer inside to see if they were in use. This prompted G-Dawg to wonder if he shouldn’t use a locker, reasoning they were big enough to keep at least two bikes in. Then he could just stroll up on a Saturday morning, assess the weather and decide which bike best suited the conditions.

With departure time fast approaching, Crazy Legs made the first call for a “flat white” ride – an additional coffee stop at Kirkley Cycles. We decided to play it by ear, see what the day brought us and adapt accordingly. With that we pushed off into the lashing, freezing rain and rode out.

First up a rendezvous with the Colossus at the end of Brunton Lane.


G-Dawg and Taffy Steve hit the front and off we went, out of the sanctuary of the car park, where it was just as brutally cold, wet and unpleasant as I’d imagined. Blood rapidly fled from all extremities and there were numerous bad attempts at “jazz hands” and other uncoordinated flapping in a futile attempt to restore circulation.

“Today,” OGL declared, “Will be a day when a post-ride, hot shower will cause grown men to whimper.”

Thankfully, we didn’t have long to wait at the end of the lane for the Colossus to join us and, for a brief moment we were 9 strong. Then, just outside the Dinnington Badlands, chilled to the core and soaked to the skin, the mudguardless Garrulous Kid abandoned.

Rather abruptly.

Instead of slowing and waving people past, he simply swerved aside, banged up over the kerb and came to  juddering halt on the pavement. From there he watched us ride away before turning around and high-tailing it home.

“And then there were 8,” the Colossus intoned.

Onward we plugged, reaching the junction with Berwick Hill, where we all swept left, except Buster who swung right, steering a course directly for his warm house. Ostensibly his ride was curtailed by a bad knee and had absolutely nothing to do with the atrocious weather and savage cold. Honest.

“And then there were 7,” the Colossus corrected his running count.

Up Berwick Hill we went, battered by pelting sleet and buffeted by an icy wind, before turning right at the top and snaking down the lane toward Kirkley Hall. At this point the majority decided we needed to get out of the rain and warm up a little and we quickly determined that Crazy Legs’ suggestion of stopping at the café at Kirkley Cycles had suddenly become utterly irresistible.

At the next junction, for whatever reason, OGL was determined to go his own way, heading by the most direct route to our usual café stop.

“And then there were 6,” the Colossus stated.

“Eh? What?” G-Dawg wanted to know, looking around. Head down, battering away on the front of the group, he’d been completely unaware of our steadily dwindling numbers.

We had to explain where and how we’d lost various riders.

“Ok,” he concluded, “but keep talking back there, just so I know I’m not alone.”

Rollocks was only planning on riding for an hour or so more, so he too pressed on, while the rest of us turned for the café.

And then there were 5.

As we rolled up the Colossus admitted he’d never been inside before and Taffy Steve assured him it was a good place, a true cycling café, with good coffee, excellent prices and some great memorabilia, including his favourite, a poster of Idi Amin in full La Vie Claire cycling kit!

Or at least that’s what my frozen ears thought he was saying.


Main topics of conversation at coffee stop#1

As a measure of just how cold it was and how chilled we’d become, for the first time that I can ever recall, even the Colossus wanted a coffee rather than a cold drink. I stripped off my rain jacket, sat down and clutched my mug in a death grip, trying to stop shivering long enough to actually take a sip without dribbling the contents down my front.

Across from us, two of the denizens of the fitness studio next to the café, were enjoying a post-workout coffee and chatting to a couple of hikers. Crazy Legs was intrigued by the odd contrast of two svelte, toned and barely dressed gym-goers, chatting comfortably with a big bloke in a fully zipped up parka, wearing thick gloves, boots and a woolly hat under the hood of his coat which was pulled up and fastened tight.

The resident dog wandered past and stopped to lick at the moisture on G-Dawgs specs, which he placed on the floor inside his helmet. It wandered off, before coming back to run a rasping tongue up and down Taffy Steve’s shin, before deciding to lick the inside of his helmet bowl.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a dog lick my helmet before,” he disclosed in a too loud voice, just as there was a general lull in the conversation, prompting us to fall about giggling like a bunch of naughty schoolboys.

Looking all around at all the cycling clothes, spare components and memorabilia, I demanded to know where the poster of Idi Amin in cycling kit was and I was horribly disappointed to find I had misheard and that it wasn’t a poster of Idi Amin, but one Bernard Hinault. Pah!

“Mind, those gloves look nice.” Crazy Legs nodded at a display of sturdy, weatherproof gloves.

“And dry,” he added.

“You could buy them and put them on,” G-Dawg suggested, like a kid getting a new pair of shoes that you want to wear straight out of the shop.”

Crazy Legs didn’t need to though, as following Red Max Winter Protocol#1, he had a spare, dry pair in his back pocket and not just any pair of gloves, but some mighty Planet X lobster mitts. He stood, plonked his helmet on, zipped up his jacket and pulled on his dry gloves, before turning to our café companions.

“I have to say that’s a brilliant contrast between people who look freezing and those that look hot,” he told them.

“Well, thanks, we do look hot, don’t we?” one of the gym-goers demanded.

For the briefest of moments Crazy Legs stood there, trying to think up a witty come-back that wouldn’t sound either totally lecherous, or horribly ungallant. His brain failed and he quickly turned, scuttling for the door and beating a hasty retreat.

We followed him out, but at a more leisurely place.  


The rain had cleared while we were inside, but typically started up again, as soon as we turned back onto the main road. Luckily though it was a fairly brief downpour and soon eased and disappeared. There was even some semblance of sun and the rolling nature of the road had us working hard and thankfully, at last starting to warm up.


brut


Even winter boots had failed to protect us from the lashing rain and spray and feet were soaked through. Always happy to find a positive though, Crazy Legs declared it was worth running the risk of trench foot to be able to pare back his well-basted toenails without resorting to an angle grinder.

We reached the Gubeon and turned toward our second café stop of the day in close formation, two up front, two at the back with our fifth man sat comfortably in the middle – our 5-blank domino formation as Crazy Legs dubbed it.

We stretched our legs a little in getting to the café, with a general increase in pace, although no one was interested in it turning into a full-blooded sprint. We arrived just as OGL was pulling out and heading for home.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop#2

Inside the café we found Big Dunc and couple of other brave riding companions. They’d started out a bit later than us, hoping, but failing to miss the worst of the weather. He described with horror the difficulties of stopping for a pee, spending long moments hunting for his shrinking, “vestigial” appendage in the bitter cold, then even longer trying to force water-logged gloves back onto to freezing wet hands.

For my part, I told him our ride out was like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, just without the Cossacks, who’d decided it was too cold to be out. It had been a deeply unpleasant, brutally attritional journey, with a trail of comrades lost along the way.  

G-Dawg slapped his gloves on the café stove to try and dry them out. They sizzled like fish fillets in a frying pan.

Relating a football anecdote, Crazy Legs couldn’t remember a player’s name and had to describe him as the big, black forward who played for England and used to regularly fall over for no apparent reason.

From this scant description everyone immediately and unerringly identified the luckless Emile Hesky.

From there we learned of a Match of the Day where presenter Gary Lineker was joined by panellists Alan Shearer and Ian Wright and introduced the show as featuring “two of England’s most accomplished strikers … and Ian Wright.”

The Colossus and Taffy Steve recommended finding Ian Wright’s appearance on Top Gear, when he admitted to stupidly trashing his own Ferrari and having to stop himself instinctively running away, when he realised he was the cars legitimate owner.


By the time we were ready to head out again, the weather was dry, bright and significantly warmer. We decided to resurrect G-Dawgs original plan for a longer ride back, even if the first part would have us battling directly into a headwind. G-Dawg and the Colossus were more than up for the task anyway and spearheaded our return with an impressively long and uncomplaining stint toiling away on the front.

The headwind nevertheless took its toll and Taffy Steve started struggling on the hills, where his thrice cursed winter-bike became his five-fold cursed winter bike. Every time he dropped off, one or other of us would announce, “There’s a gap” and we’d ease a little until he caught back on.

After a while, Crazy Legs decided it would be better to substitute the “gap” call with a quick round of “Oops upside your head” – although his suggestion for us all to get down on the ground and pretend to row a boat were sensibly dismissed.

We then found that G-Dawgs bell would automatically ping like a sonar whenever he ran his wheel through a pot, providing us with some useful early warning signals and a chance to avoid the worst depredations of the road surface.

This also served to distract Crazy Legs, who naturally progressed from The Gap Band to Anita Ward and “You can ring my bell.”

We dropped down past the Cheese Farm and picked up our usual route home, through Dinnington. From there it was into into the Mad Mile and soon I was swinging away for my trip home and immediately pulling to a stop.

I stripped off my too hot rain jacket and winter gloves, substituting them for some thinner, drier ones. The cap that had kept the worst of the spray off my specs I kept on though, as now it was useful to block the glare from a very bright, very low sun. Then, a bit more comfortable, I pressed on for home in what was to prove to be the best riding conditions of the entire day.


YTD Totals: 6,254 km / 3,805 miles with 76,583 metres of climbing

Arctic Turn

Arctic Turn

Club Run, Saturday 20th January, 2018              

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance                                   89 km / 62 miles with 862 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          3 hours 51 minutes

Average Speed:                                 23.1 km/h

Group size:                                         5-6-5 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    3°C

Weather in a word or two:          Turning Arctic


Jan 21
Ride Profile


A week of commuting into work through snow, hail, slush and ice, had prepared me for the worst on Saturday, when temperatures remained manically depressed and I found myself questioning the wisdom of my own actions, even as I layered up and prepared to head out to ride across to the meeting point in the still gloomy dawn.

But, as I told everyone at work throughout the week, the roads seemed a whole lot safer than the pavements, although I wondered if I’d miss the reassuringly fat and heavily-ridged mountain-bike tyres of the Rockhopper, as I pulled the Pug out of the shed in preparation for the ride.

Down the hill, cutting wide of the icy ribbons down the gutters, it was chill, but we’d already ridden in much worse conditions once this winter. My digital checkpoint informed me it was a flat 1°C. The low temperature hadn’t discouraged the rowers out on the river though, where half a dozen or more fragile-looking white hulls stood out stark against the cold, black waters.

As I’d found on my commutes, the roads were generally ok, as long as you didn’t stray off the beaten track and I had absolutely no issues as I passed through Swalwell, Blaydon, Newburn, Denton and Blakelaw on my north-east bound trajectory.

Then I got to what Wikipedia describes as the “affluent and well-established” area of Gosforth and things became increasingly sketchy. Side streets and pavements resembled ice-rinks, every speed bump was like a snow-boarders wet-dream of the perfect berm, and the cycle lane down the Great North Road appeared to have been commandeered to store all the excess snow that the ploughs had scraped off the road.

Rolling up to the meeting point, a dodgy road/pavement interface layered in ice, had me unclipping and trundling to a less than elegant stop.

Made it.


Main topics of conversation at the start.

Awaiting me were just two stalwarts of the club, G-Dawg and Taffy Steve. Referencing the high incidence of dodgy roads through Gosforth and lack of snow and ice clearance, I had to ask G-Dawg if its fine and upstanding citizens had stopped paying their council taxes, or perhaps it was just assumed that everyone here could afford a 4 x 4.

Taffy Steve had likewise been commuting by bike into work, where he’d had a grandstand view of his fellow workers trying and failing to negotiate their un-gritted car park. From his observations, he concluded that most modern 4 x 4’s were only good for appearing in rap video’s and not actually all that suited to tricky road conditions.

Even as we were talking a middle-aged woman swaddled in scarves and muffled in a massive parka emerged and went shuffling down the opposite pavement, shaking out a thin, meagre trail of road salt from a small Tupperware container.

“There you go,” remarked G-Dawg dryly, “The council’s emergency response team in action, that’s where all the money goes…”

As we stood around, hopping from foot to foot in a vain attempt to keep blood circulating, up rolled Aether and our plucky trio, expanded to a string quartet, the four riders of the all chapped lips. Aether had been suffering all week with a heavy dose of man-flu and, like me a few weeks ago, had pondered Crazy Legs’ recommendation to try riding through it.

Aether had even gone as far as consulting Dr. “Snake-Oil” Crazy Legs via social media:

A: “I’m feeling rough with the cold. Do you think a run out on Saturday will do me good?”

CL: “Yes…”

And a minute later,

CL:  “No…”

And then,

CL: “… Not sure.”

To which Benedict had helpfully added, “CL is correct on this one.”

Oh well, I guessed we were going to find out.

G-Dawg informed us that OGL was suffering with his own version of man flu and wouldn’t be out today. Apparently, he was even too sick to drive past to tell us we were all insane, the roads would be lethal and we were all doomed. We discussed the possibility that his contact in the “Outer Hebrides” was just a massive wind-up merchant, who liked scaremongering with exaggerated tales of dire weather engulfing the region. The weight of evidence certainly seems to be leaning that way.

News had filtered through that Richard of Flanders would be out of action for a few weeks with his wrist wrapped in plaster following an accident. We had to clarify for Taffy Steve that this accident wasn’t of the bike-on-ice variety, but a seemingly far more common sporting injury, the kind all too familiar to middle-aged men who tried to defy time by haring around 5-a-side football pitches like a bunch of hoodlum teenagers. Now that’s what I call lethal.

Biden Fecht arrived as we waited, negotiating the icy road/pavement interface with far more aplomb than I had. He’d apparently been slightly delayed by layering on top of his layering, allegedly up to 5 different strata of insulating material on his feet alone, including a reflective, tin foil barrier.

We’ve all been there, all tried and all pretty much concluded it doesn’t work – although G-Dawg’s the only one to claim his sheets of tin foil were utterly destroyed and emerged from his shoes shredded into a million tiny flakes. (I’ve no idea what he does with his feet while pedalling and really don’t want to know.)

 At Garmin Muppet Time + 3, we decided we’d waited as long as possible and that this was it in terms of numbers. With a verbal agreement on a basic route, including plenty of room for on the fly adjustments, the five of us pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


I dropped to the back and slotted in between the last pair on the road, in what I thought was the ideal, sheltered position. Later though, Taffy Steve rotated off the front and dropped back to chat. This left Aether sitting alone, right in the middle of the pack between the front and rear pair, and if anything this looked even more sheltered.  I’m sure that, physically and temperature-wise, there was no discernible difference, but psychologically it just looked a whole lot cosier.

As we passed through Ponteland and onto lesser trafficked and less clear roads, we picked up the Big Yin who’d missed us at the start, but more by chance than good management, picked a route that neatly intersected with our ride. He swung round to give chase, dropped in amongst us and we reshuffled the pack and pressed on.

For the most part the roads G-Dawg chose were good, but you didn’t have to stray far to find yourself in all sorts of trouble and there was plenty of snow and ice to go around if you looked hard enough.


snow2
You didn’t have to stray far to find yourself in all sorts of trouble


Taffy Steve suggested we take a leaf out of his recent mountain bike excursion with Crazy Legs and call into the café at Kirkley Cycles for an early, warming and fortifying beverage. This sounded like an eminently sensible and civilised suggestion and was duly adopted.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop … Part One

Biden Fecht revealed that his multiple layering didn’t seem to be working all that well, his feet in particular were already frozen and he couldn’t add any more layers as his shoes couldn’t accommodate the bulk. The Big Yin was toting chemical hand-warmers and I wondered if they’d help if I shoved them down the front of my bib-tights. G-Dawg went one further and suggested you could buy a couple of dozen of them to gaffer-tape all over your body.

Taffy Steve thought we’d done well to sit away from the cycling merchandise displayed on the walls, avoiding the temptation to buy up their entire stock of clothing to wear on the go.

For some reason the conversation turned to Rolls-Royce cars, with Taffy Steve recounting that Crazy Legs had done some work at one of the Rolls-Royce plants. Apparently, they’d been thoroughly unimpressed with his devotion to his Renault Cactus, while Crazy Legs in turn had been thoroughly unimpressed by their offer of an obsidian coated “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood ornament, that just looked discoloured, black and gunky. Taffy Steve suggested this would only appeal to someone with an unhealthy Minecraft obsession, or far more money than sense.

The only thing I knew about a Rolls-Royce was the much over-quoted, Ogilvy ad-copy from marketing lectures in the dim and distant past, to paraphrase, “at 60 miles an hour, all you’ll hear is the clock ticking.” Biden Fecht recalled getting a lift in a Roller once, something he considered the very pinnacle of his hitch-hiking activities. He reported it had been the ultimate in comfort, but rather disquietingly smooth and silent.  

Having enjoyed our brief, impromptu sojourn and a chance to thaw out a little, G-Dawg identified two more cafés en route to our usual stop and we considered whether we should call in to those as well.

As we were bundling ourselves up to leave a fellow cyclist burst through the door and loudly declared, “the roads are bloody shoite.” Nobody argued.


Out once again, onto the bloody shoite roads, I pushed on at the front alongside G-Dawg, refusing to look back or acknowledge Biden Fecht’s forlorn cry of disappointment as we rode straight past the next potential café without even a glance.

Much more frequently than usual, we now started encountering feral packs of cyclists with hungry looking eyes. Much like us, they travelled in small, buzzing, compact groups of half a dozen or so riders, roaming the roads as if searching for easy prey – the old, weak and infirm, the abandoned and those who had become dangerously separated from the herd.

We finally hit a T-Junction and had a choice to make, turn right and in 3 or 4-miles we would hit Morpeth. Turn left and we were just a few miles away from Whalton and on direct route to our usual coffee stop, where we’d be arriving just a tad too early. The only issue with the Morpeth route was we couldn’t think of a good return leg that wasn’t likely to be ice-bound and potentially dangerous.


snow1


After a lot of hemming and hawing, we decided to head straight to the café and from there work out a longer route home for the added miles.

As we turned onto the road for Whalton, our senses were assailed by the gagging, eye-watering stink of muck spreading in the surrounding fields and we pressed on quickly to escape.

A little further on, and G-Dawg’s phone started ringing insistently and incessantly and, assuming it was important, he rode off the front to buy himself the time to answer. Taffy Steve surmised it must be serious if someone would knowingly interrupt G-Dawg’s sacred, Saturday morning, club-run ritual.

As G-Dawg pulled out a gap ahead, a tractor and trailer sneaked out of field in-between us and we found ourselves not only on shoite roads, but closely following a farmers shoite-wagon – fresh from muck-spreading in the fields and trailing its own entirely fearsome smell behind it. Caustic! That certainly clears the nostrils. Perhaps it’s something Team Sky could investigate for beneficial marginal gains, although to be fair they’re doing a fair job of creating their own malodorous stink at the moment.

G-Dawg re-joined and we guessed his intrusive phone call hadn’t been a matter of life and death after all. From his grumpy face, I could only assume that during his essential phone call, he’d just learned he’d been miss-sold PPI, or realised he’d been involved in an imaginary traffic accident that wasn’t his fault.

He took his evident frustrations out on his pedals and he and Biden Fecht rode off the front to contest the café sprint. No one else seemed all that bothered and we all trailed in behind and at our own pace.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop … The Sequel

In the café, a Morpeth-based cyclist in civvies stood at the counter waiting to be served and declared he couldn’t decide if we were brave, or foolish to be out riding today. I didn’t actively disagree with the foolish moniker, but then again we weren’t the ones who’d driven out to a café, sans bike, to meet up with our cycling buds when we could have been lying-in at home, in a nice warm bed.

Amongst our many, many fond memories of Superstars; Kevin Keegan’s bike-handling abilities, Brian Jacks devouring oranges (seemingly whole), Mo Farah’s canoe-piloting …err… skills? and Brian Hooper’s all-round excellence, G-Dawgs recollection of 1980 Tour de France winner, Joop Zoetemelk’s performance in the gym tests stood out.

Asked to see how many push-ups he could master in one minute, G-Dawg reported Zoetemelk bravely and elegantly managed to lower his upper torso to the floor … and that was it. Apparently, he then needed assistance to get back up again.

Someone had spotted an Internet video of a group of cyclists in South Africa being impressively paced and then schooled for speed by an ostrich. Although judged irascible, dim-witted, unpredictable, fractious, powerful and dangerous, Taffy Steve vowed he’d rather take his chances riding alongside the ostrich than with the Garrulous Kid.

Further discussion about layering for the cold and the use of tin foil led to the thought that Biden Fecht might consider an insulating layer of goose fat, once the best-in-class, fat of choice for discerning Channel swimmers, well, after baby dolphin fat became somewhat frowned upon.

“Goose fat stinks, though,” Aether declared, knowledgeably. He seems to know a lot about such things, though I’ve never had him pegged as a Channel swimmer.

His assertion immediately set off alarm bells for me … we pass so many hunts that the lingering aroma of roasted game bird could easily trigger the prey-drive instinct in the dogs. Being chased by a pack of hounds could possibly be as dangerous as being stalked by a rabid ostrich … although it obviously pales into insignificance in comparison to the risks of riding with the Garrulous Kid.

We then overheard, or perhaps mis-overheard, the staff talking about an old boiler in the gent’s toilet. While Aether boldly went to investigate, the rest of us quickly started gathering up our things in anticipation of having to make a swift exit …


Our usual, longer, alternative route home through Stamfordham was mooted and then quickly agreed. Off we went. Once again, we were struck by how frequently we encountered other small groups of roaming cyclists. It wasn’t until G-Dawg explained the obvious that I finally caught on, the snow and ice had forced us all onto the few roads that were guaranteed to be more or less clear, safe and passable. Restricting road choice meant we were much more likely to pass other cyclists. Ah, now I get it.

As for the fact all of the groups were small, only 6, 7 or 8 strong? I seemed to recall it’s a little known British Cycling bye-law that each club has to nominate up to “half a dozen stout, cycling yeomen volunteers” who will be named “the Usual Suspects“ and deemed “foolish enough to turn up for the club run regardless of the prevailing weather conditions.” British Cycling, Club Rules: Section 12, Subsection 2.4, Sub clause 17b.

Channelling his inner-roving troubadour and making up for the absence of Crazy Legs to provide us with musical accompaniment, Biden Fecht took note of the branding on my bib-tights and invited me to join him in a rousing chorus of UB40’s, “I am the one in Tenn.” I politely declined.

Then, the road was dipping down, everyone was slowing for a sharp left, while I kept straight on, starting my solo ride back home.

At the lights before the bridge, I pulled up behind a large estate car, much to the excitement of two Jack Russel terriers travelling in the cargo well. Being too small to see directly out of the rear window, they kept springing up, one after the other like demented Whack-a-Moles, trying to catch a glimpse of the mad cyclist stupid enough to be out in the cold and ice.

Luckily, there was no need to call into Pedalling Squares this week to see how Thing#1 was getting along, she’d shipped herself off to Leeds to check out her University accommodation for next September.

Besides, although Pedalling Squares seemed to like her and had offered her more work, she’d declined and I think I understand why … too many bloody cyclists.

Anyway I’m not sure yet another coffee was such a good idea – I was likely to be buzzing until Wednesday as it was.


Year Totals: 360 km / 212 miles with 4,402 metres of climbing

True Grit

True Grit

Total Distance:                                     89 km / 55 miles with 934 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                            4 hours 5 minutes

Average Speed:                                   21.7 km/h

Group size:                                           13 riders, 2 MTB’s

Temperature:                                      3°C

Weather in a word or two:               C-c-c-c-cold


 

true grit
Ride Profile


Another week, and the North East still seems to be in the icy grip of a nano-femto-yocto Ice Age. Still, I’d kept riding through through the freezing conditions, managing three commutes by bike without any issues. That was until the Friday morning, when I rolled onto the bridge into the University, hit an extended patch of slick ice and came crashing down, right behind an ambling building contractor. He got a shock, jumped, but somehow stayed upright, while I got a brand new hole in my shin and the Pug seemed to take most of the impact on the saddle, which ended up badly deformed with a rail bent inwards.

As Campus Services are usually good at keeping the pathways ice free, I can only assume the bridge had been gritted, but this had been washed away in the rain overnight and then re-frozen. I picked myself up and carefully walked the rest of the way, using the Peugeot as an impromptu Zimmer frame and weaving around lots of unsteady pedestrians, slipping and sliding down the slope toward me and having real trouble with a lack of traction.

Another commuter on a mountain bike came whipping past and I waved for him to slow and warned him he was heading toward dangerous ice. I didn’t hear a bang and crash behind me, so assume he was better at staying upright than me, or dismounted to join the rest of the teetering walkers.

It wasn’t until I was cleaning the bike after the club run that I discovered I also snapped my rear mudguard clean in two, although hopefully my gaffer tape, bodge-job will hold, at least for a while.

Saturday morning promised more of the same, and found me picking my way slowly down the Heinous Hill, steering wide of the icy runnel down the side of the road and hoping the evil glistening of the tarmac was just because the road surface was wet.

The red-glowing LED letters of my digital checkpoint told me it was 8:19 and 0°C as I passed, and I did wonder if it was actually colder than that, but the display couldn’t handle negative temperatures. At one point in our ride Aether reported it was -2°C, so maybe that is the case.

I was right in the bottom of the valley now, down where all the cold air had sunk and ice crept out across the road from either verge. Luckily there was little traffic about and I was able to pick my way carefully down the relatively clear, narrow meridian in the centre of the road.

I arrived at the southern end of the Newburn Bridge just as the traffic lights turned red and, having had one bad experience on an icy bridge already this week and not wanting to hang around getting colder, I dismounted and took to the white and glittering footpath to walk across.

As I passed over the river a coxless-four slid out on the black water under the span, with a rhythmic clack-clack-creak, clack-clack-creak of oars. I never appreciated just how loud those boats are, they always look to be gliding silently and effortlessly along.

On the north side of the river I then got delayed before a long set of roadworks where more resurfacing was going on and got the impression the workmen thought I was slightly mad, but I was on more travelled routes now and the dangers of hidden ice seemed significantly reduced.

Traffic was unusually heavy, perhaps swollen with a mad rush of Christmas shoppers and I had trouble switching into the right hand lane before a busy roundabout. As a result, I had to circumscribe a wide orbit around the outside, but luckily found myself shielded from behind by Mr. Patient, who seemed to instinctively understand where I was trying to go and positioned his car between me and the rest of the traffic.

Onto the side streets, and the final, icy looking roundabout was taken slowly and as upright as possible as I emerged just ahead of G-Dawg and coasted carefully through to the meeting point.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Meeting Point

G-Dawg’s meticulous route-planning input continued, this time advising Aether on the roads that would be officially gritted according to secret, local government insiders and intensive, cyber warfare-style, web-trawling. He really does have too much time on his hands these days.

None of his assurances were quite good enough for OGL though, whose sleeper contacts in the Outer Hebrides had reported danger and unpassable roads everywhere. He had allegedly spent the entire morning fielding dire warnings from “cyclists all over Newcastle” that the roads were lethal and nigh on impassable. And yet … despite declaring we were all doomed, (doomed! I tell ye!) here he was, at the meeting point on time and ready to ride.

With Taffy Steve’s thrice cursed winter-bike still quarantined and locked in either the workshop, or the doghouse (the story varies depending on his mood), he’d arranged a less frenetic ride with Crazy Legs on mountain bikes. This would give him another week to replace his broken freehub, afford Crazy Legs a more civilised re-introduction back into club runs as part of his rehabilitation from a truly nasty chest infection, and it meant they had a little better grip and were slightly more comfortable with the conditions.

This sounded good to G-Dawg, who suggested if any of the lanes looked dodgy we could send the mountain bikes down ahead of everyone else to scout for danger, and avoid the route if they failed to return.

There was some talk of the still missing Prof, who seems to have taken up with a bunch calling themselves the Backstreet Boys, or something similar. I’m not quite sure how working as a tribute act for a dodgy 90’s boy band fits in with his cycling, but apparently (with enough make-up and props, and in the right light) the Prof is a dead ringer for Howie D. and has all the dance moves down pat and everything.

There was only time then for OGL to declare that the “slithering reptile” comment a certain Mrs. Wiggins issued in connection to a four time Tour de France winner had been made in a private, closed group and was not intended for public consumption. To me it’s just another sign of the insidious and dangerous nature of social media, which has so rapidly become a horrendous cess-pit of hate and bile and ignorance. My simple, much too often ignored, golden rules – think before you write, re-read before you post and never, ever post anything you wouldn’t say to someone face-to-face.

(There’s also a newly-minted, club rule that recently surfaced on Facebook and I think is worth adopting: you really should stop posting before reaching the bottom of your first bottle of Merlot.)


Off we trundled then a brave, a foolish, or a bravely-foolish 13, including our two mountain-bikers tucked into the back. They’d later report rolling along with us was pretty straightforward, until we hit an incline and then it became bloody hard work.

I spent the first part of the ride tucked in alongside the Big Yin, who was perhaps the only one relishing the freezing conditions as he had new “extreme conditions” socks and overshoes and wanted a good and proper test for them . We decided that  if he counted his toes when he got home and they were all intact, the test had been successful.

The roads weren’t brilliant, but they were comfortably passable with just a little diligence and care, you never actually felt you were teetering on the edge of disaster and there were no incidents.


rer


We rolled past Tranwell Airfield and pulled to a stop before the junction. At this point we discovered our errant mountain bikers had disappeared and someone wondered where along the way we’d lost them. Half-jokingly, I suggested they’d probably turned off at Kirkley Cycles, lured by cake and fresh coffee in the café.

I should have put money on it…

Most of the group showed true grit, and took a right at the junction for a longer loop around, while I tucked in behind OGL and Sneaky Pete as they headed directly for the café, reasoning I’d tempted fate enough for one week.


Main Topics of Conversation at the Coffee Stop:

Our own extreme weather conditions led to Sneaky Pete discussing English explorer-eccentric Ranulph Fiennes, or to give him his full, glorious title, Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 3rd Baronet, OBE. Apparently made irritable by frostbite he decided to cut off the dead ends of his fingers because they kept getting in the way.

“I tried tentatively to cut through the smallest finger with a new pair of secateurs, but it hurt. So I purchased a set of fretsaw blades at the village shop, put the little finger in my Black & Decker vice and gently sawed through the dead skin and bone just above the live skin line. The moment I felt pain or spotted blood, I moved the saw further into the dead zone. I also turned the finger around several times to cut it from different sides, like sawing a log. This worked well and the little finger’s end knuckle finally dropped off after some two hours of work. Over that week I removed the other three longer fingers, one each day, and finally the thumb, which took two days.” Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know: The Autobiography of Ranulph Fiennes.

Oh my, and we thought Johnny Hoogerland was the epitome of tough!

We were soon joined at the café by our indomitable, errant mountain bikers who, as predicted, had indeed been unable to resist the siren-call allure of the café at Kirkley Cycles.  Taffy Steve had thoroughly enjoyed his mountain bike sojourn, and declared he hadn’t had so much fun since the Cyclone he’d completed with the Red Max. This had ostensibly been in support of the Monkey Butler Boy and his wrecking crew, who had thrashed themselves to pieces trying to set a fast time.

While they did this, the older pair combined Red Max’s innate cunning, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the local back roads, to skip around the official course and always stay one step ahead of the youngsters. In this way, they were able to strategically position themselves prominently at the side of the road, conspicuously enjoying cakes, coffees, ice creams and iced cokes, and giving the kids a big thumbs-up each time they sweated and toiled their way past.

With the rest of our group all safely back following their extended loop, talk turned once again to slithey toves and slithering reptiles. The consensus seemed to be that Mr. Froome was bang to rights and looking at a lengthy ban. Interestingly, and apparently in the face of scientific evidence, there wasn’t a single cyclist there who didn’t think a puff of Salbutomol wouldn’t help them breathe deeper and ride faster.

Brandishing his own Ventolin inhaler and offering a pay-as-you-puff scheme, Crazy Legs tried to describe the horrible, scary and debilitating effects of an asthma attack (I haven’t suffered from asthma for about 10 years now, but still recall it’s like trying to breathe through lungs stuffed full of wet cotton wool.)

Talk turned to the odd practice of “scarfing” –  Michael Hutchence, Steven Milligan et al, with Crazy Legs seemingly disappointed he’d never experienced any of the supposed stimulating effects of autoerotic asphyxiation – even when suffering a severe asthma attack dressed in nothing but stockings and suspenders, with an orange stuffed in his mouth.


A bunch of us took a slightly longer ride home through Whalton, where I had a chance to catch up with G-Dawg as we pushed along on the front. We agreed Crazy Legs and Taffy Steve may have hit upon a viable alternative to the club ride when conditions were a bit sketchy – a relaxed peregrination around the region’s best loved cycling cafés by mountain bike, although I couldn’t help adding they’d probably earned more java kudos than Strava kudos.

Crazy Legs declared he was going  through Ponteland rather than Berwick Hill, hoping to finish the ride at his own pace, but we decided this was probably the safer route all around, so we made him ride with us a little further. Over the River Pont, I then swung away west and started my solo ride home.

Down into the bottom of the Tyne Valley again, I found the mornings roadworks had been completed and slalomed through the traffic cones to ride on the freshly laid, still steaming new tarmac. Luckily my tyres didn’t melt like a road tyre on a turbo, but sadly I also felt no warming benefits from the fresh, just cooling blacktop.

Still, I was now close to home and a very welcome hot shower. It wasn’t the longest of rides, but it got me out, was still enjoyable and, most importantly, everyone got home safely.


YTD Totals: 7,264 km / 4,514 miles with 83,674 metres of climbing

Domestic Duties

Domestic Duties

Club Run, Saturday 18th February, 2017

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  107 km / 67 miles with 1,061 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 25 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.2 km/h

Group size:                                         22 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    13°C

Weather in a word or two:          Föhntastic!


18th-feb
Ride Profile


The Ride:

Catching the end of the BBC weather, I learned the weekend was going to see the whole of the North East of England exposed to what they were labelling the Föhn effect. That sounded serious, in a Scandinavian sort of way and they’re not a region renowned for fine weather. After last week’s dreadful conditions, it was not what I was hoping for.

In actual fact the Föhn effect is relatively benevolent as, to the best of my limited understanding, it meant that we were going to be sheltered in the lee side of a plume of tropical air that got hung up in the process of dumping a heavy, hearty rainfall all over the Pennines. This in turn would generate strong and gusty downslope winds accompanied by abrupt warming and drying over our entire region. Sorry, Manchester, but lucky us.

What this actually meant in practice was an unseasonably mild, dry but windy Saturday. .

In fact, the forecast was so mild and so dry for Saturday, that Facebook chatter started early about the rare possibility for breaking out the best, summer bikes, if only on a day release basis. It was an opportunity many decided could not be missed, but Reg was clearly unprepared for such a rude and abrupt early awakening, so I stuck to the Pug.

Down by the riverside (Catchy. Someone should use that line in a song) I found lots of fit looking young people in muddy wellies milling around. The car parks in both boat clubs were clogged with trailers piled high with white hulls, while cars spilled out onto either side of the road. It looked like being a big day of competition out on the river for our local rowing clubs and they’d struck lucky with the weather too.

It was mild enough outside for a single base-layer and light, windproof jersey and by the time I reached the meeting point, both the weather and my efforts had warmed me up enough that I was able to discard the buff, headband and inner gloves.


Main topics of conversation at the start:

G-Dawg and Son of G-Dawg were the first to arrive on their “best bikes” the latter adorned with a gleaming new chain. And not just any chain, but a gleaming, new and glistening golden chain. We suggested other bits of gold bling Son of G-Dawg could add to the bike, although there was a sharp intake of breath when he proposed, “Maybe gold shoes, too.”

You see, he just had to push it too far (although, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’d wear gold shoes, even if it was just as ultimate mark of my style over substance approach to cycling.)

It wasn’t quite mild enough for Crazy Legs to risk the cossetted Ribble, but he’d traded in the fixie for the Bianchi. Jimmy Mac tried to interest Crazy Legs in a celeste coloured chain for the Bianchi, but the option had already been contemplated and rejected because:

a. It would mean keeping the chain even more scrupulously clean.

b. How much!!? £80 for a consumable chain seems a little excessive.

Taffy Steve had abandoned the thrice-cursed winter-bike for his titanium love-child, but cited on-going mechanical issues with the winter hack as the principle reason for the change, including jockey wheels that had assumed the same rough shape and dimensions as a shark’s teeth. Likewise, the Red Max had no choice but to go with his best bike after the terminal disintegration of his drive train last week.

Keel, also out on his best bike, had invested in some scarily, glaringly white, plush, Lizard Skins bar tape, but was uncertain how long it would keep its pristine loveliness. He suggested he might be riding the entire way with his hands clasped precariously around the front of his brake levers.

White bar tape had finally defeated even G-Dawg, who usually relishes even the most taxing bike-cleaning challenge, but had eventually recognised the futility of a battle he couldn’t hope to win. We’ll see, maybe the Lizard Skins stuff is easy to clean – it has a good reputation to go with its hefty price.

Meanwhile the Garrulous Kid was talking at Taffy Steve, explaining he would be missing a few club runs as he needed some extra weekend tuition for his Maffs A-Level.

“Maffs?” I enquired.

“Yes, Maffs.”

“Not English?”

“No, my English is really good, just Maffs.”

“Really?”

Meanwhile, Sneaky Pete had sneaked in amongst the group, presenting us with a unique photo-opportunity, as the bus shelter nearby was currently adorned with a poster for the eponymous TV Series of Sneaky Pete’s life.

Acting as both press officer and official photographer, Crazy Legs was soon lining up Sneaky Pete alongside the poster, to record the moment for posterity.

sp

He looks grumpy because he’s entirely disowned the production as (allegedly) the series takes far too many liberties with his real life story: turning the mild-mannered, retired-physics teacher, Oxford Blue and occasional mountaineering-cyclist, into a con man on the run from a vicious gangster, while transplanting the whole story from the gritty north of the UK, to a ritzy New York City. Hollywood, eh?


After a slight delay, while the Red Max swapped his cleats around – 24 or so cyclists pushed off, clipped in and rode out,  an odd mix of posh plastic bikes and battered and benighted winter-hacks.

Those on their good bikes were especially giddy, none more so that the Red Max, who swooped delightedly from the head of the line, completely around one roundabout and back onto the rear of our group – the world’s first Immelmann Turn performed by bicycle.

I was riding with the Monkey Butler Boy when we had our first RIM encounter of the day, a white-van man who took exception to us, even though he was driving in completely the opposite direction. Face twisted in malevolent outrage, he considerately took time away from the conversation he was having on his mobile, to lean heavily on his horn and gesticulate that we were all violent self-abusers. How pleasant.

Moments later a driver tried to pass us, only to find the outside lane already occupied by an approaching car, forcing him to dither disconcertedly, obviously tempted to turn back into our group.

If he was a short-sighted, impatient lunatic, I didn’t know what to make of the driver who blindly followed the overtaking manoeuvre, glued to his rear bumper and with even less idea if the road ahead was clear.

Luckily the approaching driver braked to a halt, allowing the two morons the opportunity to accelerate away and pull across in front of us. I was going to say safely in front of us, but there was wasn’t a scintilla of safety or consideration in anything this pair were doing.

Looking for less trafficked lanes, we turned right at the top of Berwick Hill and lined out for a fairly rapid descent. Half way down Sneaky Pete’s bottle bounced out and down the road and, after a short delay he finally seemed to notice and decided to turn about and retrieve it.

I found a place to pull in, stop and wait, while the rest of the group flashed past and away, just in case he needed any help chasing on. After a short delay, Sneaky Pete appeared over the brow of the hill, led by Rab Dee who’d also waited to help out. As Rab is younger, faster than fitter than me, my services weren’t really required, so I simply tagged onto the back, while he pulled us up to where our group was being trailed by a couple of cars, like a loyal domestique drafting through the caravan of team cars and service vehicles to deliver his leader back to the front.

Further on and passing Kirkley Cycles, G-Dawg pulled over as his STI lever had worked loose on his handlebars. As this was the same STI lever OGL’s shop had recently spent some time fixing, he was instantly on hand to help sort the problem, while we naturally all suggested G-Dawg should have used a more reputable mechanic.

None of the proffered multi-tools were long enough to get the job done, so OGL and G-Dawg disappeared up the lane to the cycle workshop to seek technical assistance and pro tools. Unbeknown to anyone, Zardoz also trailed after them, looking for the toilet.

While we waited, Crazy Legs’s Bianchi and my Peugeot decided to re-ignite the long dormant Franco-Italian War, with a bit of tyre-butting, like two rutting stags going head to head. Meanwhile, Jimmy Mac’s German Storck tried to maintain neutrality with an air of imperious disdain.

Thankfully easily distracted, Crazy Legs tilted his head to one side to read the name emblazoned down the side of the Storcks fork. “Stiletto, that’s a good name for a bike,” he declared.

“Just not very Germanic.” I added, before suggesting maybe Stuka or Panzerkampfwagen would have been more appropriate.

Elsewhere, the Monkey Butler Boy was extolling the virtues of Morgan Blue Cleaning Brushes, which I interpreted as booshes and Crazy Legs as Morgan Freeman. In an instant we were left wondering what Morgan Freeman Booshes were … and whether we needed any.

Luckily Taffy Steve wasn’t around to advise us that you shouldn’t really be calling bike cleaning products anything that could be confused with a stripper, or porn stars’ stage name.


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Repairs safely effected, OGL and G-Dawg returned and we set off, inadvertently abandoning Zardoz in the toilet and forcing him to chase on for a good few miles. As I reiterated later, no one is knowingly left behind, but we’re just not very knowing.

Despite the beneficial, drying Föhn effect, through sheer persistence, cunning local knowledge and a degree of malevolent serendipity, OGL finally managed to lead us onto a section of road that was wet, rutted, filthy-muddy and horribly exposed – seemingly on no more than a whim to ensure all the posh bikes got clarty.

Rounding one bend on a narrow road, we forced a lane-hogging Qashqai to slow and reluctantly pull over. As we squeezed past the driver wound down her window to gesticulate angrily to the side of the road.

“There’s a parsing ployce,” she cried, “Yoos should use the parsing ployce!”

A great idea in principle, but I’m not sure how we could have crowded 2 dozen bikes and riders into the narrow strip that barely deserved to be called a lay-by, or how long that would have delayed her while we all huddled up and squeezed in tight together.

As we stopped to split the group, Son of G-Dawg bemoaned his spattered and muddy bike. An unsympathetic OGL told him smugly he needed mudguards. Smug guards?

“Got him,” Son of G-Dawg muttered, “Hook, line and sinker.”

“Yep,” I agreed, “He’s done, gaff him and pull him on-board.”

OGL then took the amblers group off to the left, while we pushed past Dyke Neuk, before splitting the group. A small selection of longer, harder, faster riders headed away for a loop around Long Whitton, while we set off for a rendezvous with Middleton Bank.

Jimmy Mac rode off the front on the approaches to the climb and everyone was strung out in a long line as we hit the lower slopes. I found myself at the bottom of the steepest ramp and some way off a rapidly coalescing front group and knew immediately it just wasn’t going to happen today, I didn’t have the legs to close them down. Still, I tried to keep the gap manageable, pulling clear of the rest with Zardoz in tow.

Over the top, I pushed on with the lone chase, now battling a fairly stiff headwind along with horrendous oxygen deprivation. It was hard, hard work, even as the distance to the front slowly dwindled. I suspect at some point they then looked back, saw me and took pity on my ineffectual thrashing, easing slightly so I was finally able to drag myself and Zardoz up to the wheels.

There we joined, G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg, Taffy Steve and Captain Black as they set off again, in mad pursuit of Jimmy Mac. Slowly, inexorably, the screw was turned and the pace increased as we slipped from riding in pairs, to one long, drawn out line, hammering over a series of short rises and sweeping through the bends.

I was at my limit on Captain Black’s wheel as he became slowly detached and I had nothing to give to help him bridge back across, so just hung there uselessly. He dug in to stop the gap expanding further, but couldn’t close up again.

We yowled through Milestone Woods towards the rollers and I felt there was a chance if I buried myself I might be able to pull our small group across the leaders on the climb. Carrying as much speed as I could around the final corner, I attacked from the bottom of the first ramp, managed to maintain momentum up the second and then attacked the third and final rise in a ragged, out of the saddle, leg pounding, snaking effort.

Pushing on and pedalling furiously on the descent to the final climb, I got within a few metres of Taffy Steve’s back wheel, before the slope bit, the legs went and I sat up. Zardoz swept past with a quizzical look, but I was cooked and there was nothing more I could do. He at least managed to bridge up to Taffy Steve to contest the minor placings, while I plugged along behind.

We regrouped at a temporary set of traffic lights, before rolling into the café en masse.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

A quick scrutiny of £5 notes revealed that no one had the last £50,000 engraved version. Maybe next week.

Max Stöckl’s world record downhill speed of 167 kph (over 100 mph!) was rightfully appreciated, while we wondered just how good his brakes were, if there was a wall at the end of his run, maybe speed bumps, or perhaps even train lines.

This inevitably led to further discussion of Biden Fecht’s escapades sans braking, with G-Dawg revealing that now, whenever he drives past the Metro station, he always looks for the escape lane/service road that our hapless riding companion took to avoid slamming into the level crossing barriers or the train. He wondered if Biden Fecht knew the lane was there, or whether he was just got very, very lucky. I strongly suspect the latter.

Son of G-Dawg said he realised how bad the situation was when Biden Fecht took the first corner out of Stamfordham like a speedway rider, foot down and trailing a plume of smoke, bike leaning over impossibly and at a right angle to its direction of travel. G-Dawg wondered if he’s had to buy new cleats as well as brake blocks and maybe even new shoes, perhaps with a better braking surface – just in case.

There’d been a cyclo-cross race at Kirkley Cycles when we’d stopped there earlier, but none of us could quite see the attraction of wallowing through all that mud and crud and getting your bike, in the immortal words of Daughter#2, “all bogey’d up.” In fact, given the group response to the mild mud speckling we’d encountered today, I sensed no one in our group would deliberately subject their bikes to prolonged dirt grubbing.

G-Dawg said he’d once tried a cyclo-cross event on his mountain bike, but felt parts of the course were so technical he would have been better off running the whole way. We then idly speculated on the chances of an Olympic-class middle distance runner just shouldering a bike and running an entire cyclo-cross race, potentially doable if the course is technical enough and the bike you carry doesn’t actually need all those superfluous heavy bits cyclo-cross riders use, you know like a chains, pedals, group sets and … oh … err … hidden motors.

With the café busy and new arrivals stacking up and waiting for free tables, G-Dawg declared to a waiting civilian that we’d be done in five minutes, while Son of G-Dawg snorted in disdain. Apparently, G-Dawg’s “just five minutes” are notoriously elastic in a “I told you half an hour ago I’d be 5 minutes” type of way.


We left the café to find the Red Max had been divulging copious advice on how to deal with the fairer sex to a suitably scandalised Garrulous Kid, while the Monkey Butler Boy rolled his eyes in a “I’ve heard it all before” kind of way and tried to ignore his embarrassing Dad. The Garrulous Kid wanted to know whether the information was sound and sensible. I could only suggest he think of it as a modified game of Simon Says, in which he the aim is to ignore anything and everything that Simon Says.

Heading back, we were overtaken by a lone cyclist in a Ride London jersey and both Captain Black and I noted the lack of response from Red Max, who would usually fire off and hunt down any visible cyclists like a heat-seeking missile in lycra. We concluded creeping age and the responsibility of being a grandparent must have tempered his hunter-killer instincts.

As it was, we caught the lone rider the first time the road swung uphill. Then beZ and Jimmy Cornfeed hammered past and this time the seeker head engaged and locked on.  The Red Max was launched from the pack in pursuit and half a dozen others followed as all order was shattered. I guess he was just waiting for a more challenging target.

The rest of us continued at a more restrained pace, which gave Zardoz the opportunity to demonstrate the peculiar grinding, grating warble his rear wheel had developed. This sounded like some kind of baa-ing electronic sheep whose batteries were running dangerously low – a weird bleating, droning whine. He rode up to OGL, let the bike emit it’s wail of distress and asked archly, “Do you think this sounds expensive, then?”

We started to haul in our errant attackers as we climbed to the top of Berwick Hill and began the long straight descent, at one point OGL hunkering down onto the drops and ratcheting the pace up. I know not why.

In no time at all most of the group had swung off and the small remainder hit the Mad Mile. I hung onto G-Dawg’s wheel as long as I could, until his drag race for the shower with Son of G-Dawg became too heated and then I was on my own battering into a suddenly brisk and debilitating headwind.

The grind uphill into the wind and out past the golf course was a real struggle, but before too long I was able to tip over into the valley and head for the river. Skipping across the bridge, the water below was still aswarm with narrow boats, while the crew of an 8 slowly carried their upside down hull toward the water, from above looking like nothing so much as an over-sized, gleaming white centipede.

At home, I found the bike was surprisingly muddy after the ride, despite a relatively dry day. Still, a pleasant interlude before the return to true winter riding, which I suspect is just around the corner and will be with us for a few weeks yet.


YTD Totals: 949 km / 590 miles with 8,937 metres of climbing