Unicycling Club

Unicycling Club

Club Run, Saturday 3rd February, 2018

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  105 km/66 miles with 846 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 25 minutes

Average Speed:                                23.4 km/h

Group size:                                         16 riders, 1 FNG

Temperature:                                    4°C

Weather in a word or two:          Dank


3rd feb
Ride Profile

Mother Nature. What a tease, eh?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the weather’s working on two week cycles (as a complete aside, Too Weak Cycles sounds like my kind of club) – one week in the deep freeze, the next week, ultra-mild and prompting crazy talk of shorts and good bikes. After last week’s dry, warm sweat-fest and moist phalanges, I guess I should have been prepared for a swing back toward frigid and Saturday didn’t disappoint, it was ultra-nasty.

Things seemed to start out all right, it was chilly, but the heavy rain of the early hours seemed to have passed and although the roads were awash, nothing else seemed to be falling out of the sky. It didn’t even seem that cold and after the initial shock of stepping out, I was soon warmed up climbing out of the other side of the valley and arrived at the meeting point in good order.

So far, so good.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point

As we gathered an absolutely enormous, juvenile herring gull flopped down with a flurry of heavy wing beats, and began to strut around, speculatively eyeing us up, as if pondering which one to carry off for a tasty snack. The Hammer, mused that while seagulls (allegedly) used to taste of fish, he wasn’t certain if this was still true of the modern, urban scavenger-gull, reasoning that finding such rich pickings inland, they might not actually visit the sea for months on end.

Speculating about what today’s gull might taste of, the logical consensus seemed to be Greggs pasties.

This reminded the Colossus that Greggs had been censured for an ad, which featured a nativity in which baby Jesus was (rather cleverly, I thought) replaced by a sausage roll. This he suggested was nothing compared to one nativity he’d seen, which was entirely constructed out of sausages and bacon.

Sad news, as another local bike shop, Cestria Cycles closed its doors for the last time recently. In the People’s Republic of Yorkshire, the venerable Toshi San and a group of cycling vigilantes are bearing witness to the decline of the nation’s traditional bike shops and carefully recording each new demise for posterity.

Meanwhile, in Newcastle, we were tracing a causal link between the use of Haribo and the growth in online cycle retailers. This suggests that a cyclists loyalty can be very easily bought for a handful of sticky confectionery. If only Alexander Vinokourov  had been aware of our research, he may well have been able to buy the 2010 Liège-Bastogne-Liège for a lot less than the 100,000 Euro he’s alleged to have stumped up to Alexandr Kolobnev, although being a cold-eyed, professional mercenary, Kolobnev would probably have held out for a family sized bag of Tangfastics.

The Goose rolled up on his touring bike, which hadn’t seen the light of day since his successful assault on the Lands End to John O’Groats route a couple of years ago. He decided that, instead of it lying around waiting for his next grand adventure, it should be pressed into immediate service as a winter hack. The bike proved to be a steel behemoth with fat, knobbly tyres and all sorts of ironmongery hung off it to carry panniers. We were especially impressed with the front rack, which looked like the antlers of a head-down, 6-point stag in a mid-rut charge, or bike bull bars as one observer quipped.

The final two, forward pointing tines, no more than a few inches from the ground, particularly intrigued G-Dawg, who wondered what earthly purpose they could possibly serve, before deciding each could only be used to transport one individual shoe. He seemed to disbelieve that you could fit bags on these stubby attachments and reasoned they’d have to have casters on the bottom to trail along the ground.

Taffy Steve outlined the planned route, which he suggested would be generally anti-clockwise, much to the Garrulous Kids apparent confusion. I know not why.

As we gathered to set off, a freezing rain swept in and refused to relent, staying with us for the entire ride. I pulled a waterproof over my winter jacket for some added protection from both the cold and wet and off we set.


As we reached Brunton Lane, an approaching lorry braked to a halt, stopped the line of cars behind it and waved us through the junction. Moments later and a car stopped to let us filter onto the lane itself. This was so unusual it was (literally) remarkable.

“What the hell is going on?” Crazy Legs remarked. (See, told you.)

“National Be-nice-to-auld-gits-on-bikes Day?” I suggested, “Or maybe we’ve entered a parallel universe.”

I found myself riding along beside Goose and discussing the limited range of hand signals I had available to me due to my lobster mitts. I demonstrated that I was wholly incapable of the quintessentially English, Churchillian salute, or even flipping the bird.

The Goose did console me though by pointing out Vulcan greetings were an assured doddle, while we tried and failed to recall the Orkan salute and whether this was possible to replicate in lobster mitts. Nanu nanu.

The road up past the Cheese Farm was suitably muddy and dirty and soon bikes and riders were cold, wet and generally bespattered with whatever effluvia was running off the fields. As the road rose, Goose slipped slowly backwards on his steel behemoth.

“Mountain Bike Syndrome,” I suggested to Crazy Legs, “He can keep up on the flat, but uphill is a whole different kettle of poisson.”

We regrouped and pressed on, with Crazy Legs eventually drifting back off the front and I took his place at the head of affairs alongside the Cow Ranger.


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Through Tranwell and at the first stop the group abruptly fractured, half of us pressing on to complete the planned ride, while the others set off more or less directly to the café. The Garrulous Kid made some pitiful excuse about having to get home to do a science assignment, before plumping for this shorter, easier ride.

A little further on this second group was to split again, with an even closer café luring away a truly miserable bunch who’d lost out badly in the lottery of clothing choices, were soaked through, chilled to the bone and looking for any kind of sanctuary, no matter how temporary. If my inappropriate clothing choices last week were mildly uncomfortable, my clubmates’ choices this week were almost debilitating.

In the longer group, we were soon dropping down into the Wansbeck Valley and fast approaching the violent ascent of the Mur de Mitford. G-Dawg looked around and asked if everyone was ok, even though he was the one on the fixie and without the luxury of smaller gears.

“He’s a glutton for punishment,” Taffy Steve observed, “But I can’t help wondering which is worse, climbing that thing on a fixie, or the fact he’s going to the Sunderland match this afternoon.”

Hmm. Definitely the latter. Despite G-Dawg’s support, they lost.

Again.

The Mur de Mitford successfully scaled,  we headed out on the rolling roads toward the Trench. I found myself riding along with Captain Black, both of us marvelling that Goose was managing to hang on while astride the steel behemoth and wondering if it would still be the bike of choice next week.

We reasoned that if Goose removed all the pannier racks and other trekking accoutrements, he could probably turn it into a relatively svelte climbing machine of, oh, around 18 kilos.

I also had to admit even my winter boots had failed me, or at least the right one had. Water had found its way inside and my feet were probably as wet, chilled and numb as everyone else’s.

Up the Trench we went. The Colossus reflected that in the summer, at least the first part of the climb was usually quite enjoyable. In these conditions though it was just a horrid slog, which I took at a modest pace, safe in the knowledge I wouldn’t be the slowest. We regrouped over the top and then again after the dip and rise up through Hartburn.

With a choice of Angerton or Middleton Bank, we went for the former and found the road across the exposed moorland actually wind free for a change. It may even have been strangely pleasant, if it hadn’t been so cold and open to the continuous drift of frozen rain.

One last small climb past the lake and then we were lining it out in a dash for the café. I stayed in the wheels as we hurtled through the Milestone Woods and over the rollers. As the road dipped down, Goose used the steel behemoth’s massive gravitational impetus to slingshot around us and burst off the front. He quickly opened a sizable gap, but not a single person reacted.

As the road started to rise again, Goose’s momentum and advantage quickly bled away and we were past him by the time we hit the last corner. The Colossus and G-Dawg charged away, while I led the also-rans through, alongside Captain Black.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

Ah, the café on a wet day, a warm sanctuary for weary, wet and begrimed weekend warriors, good cake, hot coffee and a lingering smell that reminds me uncomfortably of wet dog, as cyclists try to warm up, if not actually dry their steaming kit around the two stoves.

“I never thought I’d stay away,” Goose admitted while we stood in the queue, referring to his Forlorn Hope attack.

“No,” I assured him, “Neither did we.”

The Cow Ranger was soon engrossed in involved discussions about functional threshold power, training zones, power outputs, VO2 max and lactate thresholds. You know, stuff serious athletes live by.

“Ah, FTP’s,” I nodded sagely along, but didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. The conversation progressed to discussions about the evolving shape of smartwatches and training trackers, from square to round. Ah, at last, something I could understand and perhaps contribute to…

We tried to keep our eyes averted, but someone cracked, looked up and caught the Garrulous Kids eye. He was on us in an instant. What? I thought he’d scuttled off home early to complete an urgent science assignment?

Anyway, we learned that the Garrulous Kid is all set on joining a unicycling club.

Naturally, everyone was taken aback by this news, reasoning the Garrulous Kid is a big enough liability on two wheels, so goodness knows what dangers he’d present and how bad his bike handling would be on just the one!

Of course, it transpired that the Garrulous Kid had simply expressed himself poorly and he was actually talking about joining a cycling club when he  gets to university in a couple of years’ time. (Well, there’s nothing like planning ahead.)

Still, the idea of a unicycling club did have a certain appeal and we entertained ourselves for a good while imagining what a club run and café sprint would look like with everyone on unicycles.

After the failed attempts by Crazy Legs to shame the Garrulous Kid into sharing some of the work and doing a stint on the front, it was the Colossus and G-Dawgs turn to try. At first, the Garrulous Kid tried to pretend that he spent plenty of time on the front.

“I mean riding with no one in front of you and everyone lined up behind,” the Colossus explained helpfully, “Not riding off on your own.” The Garrulous Kid seemed to be having real trouble grasping the concept at its most basic, fundamental level.

The Kid couldn’t provide any evidence that he’d actually spent any time at all on the front of the group, at any time during the past year or longer that he’s been riding with us. Instead, he changed tack, insisting that riding toward the back of the pack was “chilled” and, that while there, he was representing the heart of the club.

“More like the arsehole of the club,” I suggested.

Meanwhile, Taffy Steve tried out a new mantra he’d been working on, “How many wheels can a dumb suck suck, if a dumb sucker does wheel suck?” Not quite as catchy as our “Half-Wheel Horner Society” ditty, but it could still catch on.

The Big Yin decided it was so horrible out we deserved a third cup of coffee, so went and somehow procured us additional refills.

Taffy Steve decided our experiences riding through all sorts of effluvia on the road meant we were capable of determining if we were travelling through horse or cow muck, simply by taste. Ugh. Maybe the third cup of coffee wasn’t just a luxury, but essential to dilute what we’d been inadvertently digesting.


Off out into the cold and the rain we went. My right foot hadn’t dried any, but had warmed up and I was quite comfortable despite the continuing sleety rain. I was feeling much perkier than last week, although I don’t know why. Maybe it was the shorter distance, the relative lack of wind, or the fact I’d started treating my Friday commute as more of a recovery ride and stopped chasing down every other cyclist, MTB’er, jogger, mobility scooter, dog walker, or pram pushing pedestrian.

Maybe it was simply the power of three coffees?

Either way I was zipping up the hills fairly comfortably and even held on right to the last few metres of the Mad Mile, before swinging away for my solo ride home.

As I dropped towards the valley, squeezing the brake levers, I found cold water oozing up around my fingers – the rain had finally started to penetrate my mighty lobster mitts, but they’d held up remarkably well considering.

There was nothing of note on the way home, other than an overwhelmingly glum looking bloke wearing a bobble hat whose bobble was actually bigger than his head. I’m not sure he appreciated me grinning at him as I zipped past.

And then I was leaving a pile of sodden, muddy, mouldering clothes pooled on the floor and stepping into the very welcome embrace of a hot shower.

Anyway, if the pattern continues, next weeks ride should be in relatively pleasant conditions…

I’ll believe it when I see it.


Year Totals: 699 km / 434 miles with 7,888 metres of climbing

50 Shades of Orange

50 Shades of Orange

Club Run, Saturday 10th December, 2016

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                  115 km/71 miles with 1,029 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                          4 hours 39 minutes

Average Speed:                                24.7 km/h

Group size:                                         22 riders, 0 FNG’s

Temperature:                                    10°C

Weather in a word or two:          Better than the best!


The Ride:

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Ride Profile

Relive the Ride


 

Saturday again and if we were spoiled by “the best weather we could possibly hope for” last week, what were we to make of today? This was seemingly better than the best – and a strong case can now be made to suggest we are being over-indulged, coddled and pampered in the extreme. We might even lose our hard-earned patina of rough, gruff, riding-in-all-conditions, professional hard-core Northerners if this softy-Southerner winter keeps on. (BTW Mother Nature, that’s not a direct challenge, I revel in mildness in all its forms).

Saturday morning was calmer, drier, warmer and lighter all around – which for me meant no gilet, no buff, no hat and a thinner gauge of glove, while some of my club mates even took the opportunity to break their best bikes out of hibernation for a rare winter outing.

I feel obliged however to state, for the record, that it was not warm enough to justify the attire of a fellow cyclist who passed in the other direction as I was heading out along the valley. Obviously intent on channelling his inner Jan Ullrich, this fleeting apparition hurtled past in the opposite direction in a blur of pink, resplendent in an old Telekom jersey and shorts. I can only hope this Kaiser wannabe was as … err … insulated as his hero. I mean, shorts? In December? In the North East of England? And a certain Donald John Trump still denies global warming?

Out on the river the boat crews were out in force, a four and a couple of single sculls drifting with the current, with a motor launch or two puttering along with them. I never seem to catch these crews in the act of actually rowing anywhere, but I do admire their dedication – it was still dark enough for me to be riding with lights on and dawn must have been barely a glimmer in the sky when they first fought their way over the mud-banks to reach the chill waters of the river.

Two consecutive festive works do’s had not only curtailed my usual commuting by bike, but left me feeling tired, seriously toxic and badly out of kilter from late nights, coupled with too much alcohol and bad food. Even curtailing the drinking on Friday night and bailing out as soon as my work-colleagues set sail for a Tranny Karaoke bar (again!) hadn’t given me the chance to recover and I was still feeling under the weather and rough around the edges first thing Saturday morning. I really needed this ride and was one of the first to find my way to the meeting place.

 


Main topic of conversation at the start:

Some of Crazy Legs’s regular riding buddies had suggested they try the Liege-Bastogne-Liege sportive in April next year. Looking at the daunting a 297km trek involving 4,500 metres of climbing, Crazy Legs made the excuse that it was “too early in his season” for such a mammoth endeavour. He seemed quite pleased with his excuse, until I pointed out that it left him vulnerable to being invited to ride the Tour of Lombardy sportive in October instead. Last year this beauty packed 4,400 metres of climbing into just 241km of riding. Of course, he’s probably already planning to play the “too late in the season” card for that one.

Son of G-Dawg reported that his Garmin was officially full, so he’d just completed the twice-annual ritual of uploading all of this year’s data into Strava. (For anyone who has just discovered they’ve lost their prize-KoM segment in March and have only just been informed, much too late in the year to do anything about it, I know who the culprit is and can even furnish address details for a small, compensatory fee.)

Son of G-Dawg also revealed that, as expected his Dinnington Hill KOM has already been under renewed assault, as people see what difference the billiard-smooth surface can now make to their times. Considering it was a real club effort to provide Son of G-Dawg a high-speed lead out to the foot of the climb, we all feel as invested as him in holding onto this particular record – if only so we don’t have to turn ourselves inside out numerous times to try and regain it.

The Prof arrived, also apparently suffering from the excesses of the night before and moved down the line offering gentlemanly handshakes to all. I indulged in a bit of “bro-fist” dapping with him, which I think always looks particularly appropriate between two distinctly white, middle-aged, middle-class blokes with absolutely zero street credibility.

Not to be outdone, Crazy Legs then unfolded himself from his perch atop the wall long enough to offer up one of his patented homoerotic man-hugs, complete with obligatory back patting.

“Well, how are you going to top that?” Crazy Legs enquired of the Monkey Butler Boy, who was next in line for one of the Prof’s eccentric salutations.

“Without using tongues.” I added, as the Prof advanced menacingly and the Monkey Butler Boy looked on with a mixture of deep worry and aghast horror etched onto his face.

Luckily, he was saved by the sudden realisation that it was 9:18 Garmin Time and we were already late. 20-odd lads and lasses then pushed off, clipped in and rode out.


Waiting at the first set of lights, Crazy Legs enquired about our intended route from a wincing and grimacing OGL, who was getting his excuses in early, complaining of a bad back and suggesting he was unlikely to complete the ride.

“Go up the Cheese Farm. No, don’t go up the Cheese Farm.” Was OGL’s first salvo, closely followed by, “West! Go west!”

“Go west, young man.” Sneaky Pete suggested sotto voce.

“So you’re saying you’re not going to be with us?” Crazy Legs enquired and when the answer came back affirmative, he declared we’d then be going anyway except west … and we were off.

I spent some time catching up with Princess Fiona and then Ovis and Aether, as we wound our way out into the countryside. The riding conditions were as good as expected, the roads relatively quiet and we made decent time. I was just beginning to think we’d travelled a long way without a break and was wondering how the Prof and his infinitesimally small bladder was managing to cope. As if on cue, he slid past alongside the Cow Ranger and immediately enquired if I knew when we would be stopping.

Having just passed the Whittle Dene Reservoir I was able to assure him we were approaching one of our usual split points and had no doubt he’d soon be afforded an opportunity for some relief.

As Crazy Legs drew everyone to a halt he started looking around, somewhat puzzled and wondered aloud where the Prof was. I was quite surprised by this because:

  1. As soon as we’d stopped the Prof had predictably leapt away from his small-wheeled velocipede and was exactly where we would have expected him to be – out in the hedgerows and irrigating the landscape.
  2. He was wearing enough bright orange to suggest he was marching for King Billy and Ireland, so wasn’t exactly hidden in the rather drab landscape of rural Northumberland in winter.

A much relieved Prof re-joined the group and was complimented on his all-orange accessorising: base layer, gloves, bottle, club jersey, even the detailing and clasps on his helmet straps – all were recognisably orange and all were also a subtle, ever-so-slightly-different, shade that didn’t quite match.

“I never knew so many different shades of orange existed.” G-Dawg exclaimed as wondered just how many there actually were and how few the Prof needed to complete the entire set.

“It is a bad clash.” Crazy Legs volunteered and then pondered a little before adding, “Is there such a thing as bad Clash?”

“Bankrobber?” I suggested.

“What about Guns of Brixton?” he countered.

“Well, that would certainly be a contender.”

We split the group and the faster, longer, harder bunch set off, for once without the ailing Son of G-Dawg who’d risen from his sick bed just to ride, but was fading fast.


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We took a rather lumpy route toward the café, where the same pattern started to repeat itself: a small group would drive the pace off the front, a few of us would hang grimly on the wheels and then Mad Colin would burst past, physically propelling either Princess Fiona or Penelope Pitstop uphill at a remarkably impressive pace.

We hit the Quarry climb and I came unstuck in too big a gear as I got caught behind a struggling Prof and De Uitheems Bloem, quickly losing all momentum and having to wrestle and grind my way to the top with the last of my energy.

A small knot then accelerated away for the café and I held on for as long as I could, before watching the gap slowly widen as they pulled inexorably away. As the road surface worsened on the run down to the Snake Bends I eased and sat up to spare my fillings.

Then, with a whirr and a whoosh, Princess Fiona hurtled past, clinging white-knuckled to her bars as she was pushed along at breakneck speed by Mad Colin. The Prof and a few others were hanging onto the coattails of the Mad Colin Express and he called out gleefully for me to jump on board, but by the time I’d blinked away my surprise they were long gone.

I slid through the Snake Bends and across the main road to chase down the alternate, bombed out lane to the café, slaloming around the series of deep potholes that fractured and cratered the road surface like the Clangers Moon, half expecting a somnolent, gurgling Soup Dragon to emerge from one of them. I just about managed to tag onto the back of the group as we swept into the car park, tired and heavy legged.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop

As I crept into the café, Sneaky Pete was making to sneak out, but realising he’d been caught in the act, he sauntered over and made a big show of declaring he was openly leaving and could not be accused of sneaking off.

“Who was that?” Crazy Legs enquired.

And then, “Oh, has anyone seen Sneaky Pete?”

Both Princess Fiona and Penelope Pitstop agreed that Mad Colin’s, mad pushing was a godsend when keeping up on the hills, but a whole heap of scary in a sprint over broken road surfaces, where everyone is rocketing along at in a super-tight formation and at breakneck speed.

I caught the Cow Ranger peering myopically at the display counter, trying to determine what toothsome treats were on offer and complaining about his failing eyesight. He asked for a coffee first as a distraction and to try and buy a little time, before finally settling on his choice of cake.

As the girl serving him pulled a plate out, he piped up, “Oh and a mug of coffee.” The waitress raised an eyebrow and looked pointedly at the cup of coffee already sitting, steaming on the tray under his nose, while I dissolved into a fit of giggles. Perhaps his eyes are actually as bad as he claims.

Rab Dee pondered the slow adoption of disk brakes amongst our group which led to a discussion about whether they were a valuable evolution of technology, or just a cynical marketing gimmick. While opinion was somewhat divided, everyone agreed that the recent fad for gravel bikes was seriously misplaced, I mean, where exactly are you meant to ride a gravel bike in the UK?

Rab Dee suggested things had become so crazy that he’d seen aero-gravel bikes advertised as the latest iteration of this pointless trend. The Cow Ranger was particularly scathing of the fad for fat tyred mountain-bikes, no doubt invaluable for riding in snow or on heavily broken trails, wholly inappropriate where they’re most often seen – on the daily commute through the city centre.

With the round of works parties if not in full swing then immediately imminent, we were just trying to determine if the way Christmas fell this year meant we would have to endure two Black Eye Friday’s, when we started to gather for the ride home.

I was later somewhat disturbed to find our local rag (I always wanted it be called the Tyne Daily) was actually giving good column inches to a story under the headline: “When is Black Eye Friday in Newcastle and are there two this year?”

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They even had a helpful poll, because, you know, it’s really good to promote and celebrate drinking to excess and all forms of domestic violence …


As we were preparing to leave, De Uitheems Bloem approached the table, sent as an emissary from the Prof who’s still chasing his year-end distance target and wanted to loop back by a slightly longer route to pad out his mileage.

I was tired and heavy-legged, but Crazy Legs suggested the pace wouldn’t be too high, so off we went.

From a position near the front I now had a grandstand seat for an apparently on-going duel between Crazy Legs and De Uitheems Bloem – the Dutchman firing regular salvoes of lurid green snot-rockets backwards, that Crazy Legs had to jink to avoid, like a ground attack aircraft dodging glowing tracer rounds. I was just pleased he was out on his Bianchi as I didn’t like to think what would have happened if the much-cosseted Ribble had actually caught any of that flak.

I was just about hanging on, but tiring rapidly as we crested the last rise on Stamfordham Road and tipped downwards. The rest of the group swung sharp left, while I continued down, cutting off a big corner of my usual ride home and happy to be able to ride at a more comfortable pace.

I was momentarily distracted from the pain in my legs by a van proudly proclaiming: “Rubbish Removals” and for one glorious moment thought this might be a group of inept, but refreshingly honest furniture removal men, rather than people who simply came to help you dispose of your household waste.

I risked a new route which turned out to be a short-cut around the golf course, trading in a couple of miles for a little more climbing than usual and then dropped down to the river, approaching the bridge just as the traffic lights turned red. A car pulled up behind me and as its eco-drive kicked-in, the engine idled and stopped.

A strangely muted interlude followed, in which the only sounds were a few birds chirruping in the hedgerow and the wind soughing softly through the bare branches of the trees. The quiet was pleasantly, but profoundly unusual and noteworthy and it made me realise just how much extraneous noise we tend to put up with, or simply filter out…

But it was of course only the briefest, transitory and transcendent moment of peace, as a small dog soon started yapping in a nearby garden, seagulls and magpies converged squawking and squabbling over some choice piece of roadkill, a snarling muscle-car pulled up at the lights opposite and a plane clawed its way into the sky with a loud, low rumble.

Peace on Earth?

Not very likely, in any sense of the word.


YTD Totals: 6,972 km / 4,332 miles with 72,567 metres of climbing