Blauw is het Nieuwe Zwart

Blauw is het Nieuwe Zwart

I started the day with perhaps the slowest ever descent off the Heinous Hill in the cold, damp and dark of Saturday morning, as I found myself catching and then trailing a massive JCB with backhoe down the bank. I was wondering whether to try and squeeze past when the driver involuntarily brake-tested me one of the corners and I felt my rear wheel lose grip and fishtail. This I took as fair warning that the road surface was either icy or greasy, so I scrubbed off the speed and dropped back to pick my way carefully down hoping to avoid becoming the hood ornament on an approaching car.

As I trundled over the bridge a short while later, a still-rising sun cast the river in a warm, rosy glow, smooth, glassy and featureless except in the distance where an 8-man crew was scything a rowing boat upstream, its wake resembling a huge zipper being pulled open across the surface of the water.

There was no one to chase and scare on the climb up to Denton Burn, but I still made good time and was early to the meeting place, so I did a quick peregrination around the area, meeting up with G-Dawg around Fawdon and riding in with him.

There we found TripleD-El, who couldn’t help but think she’d turned up unfashionably early, mainly because she was unfashionably early.

Our route architect this week was Crazy Legs and he’d gone for an all-time classic club run, predicated mainly on local bus routes where, hopefully, the roads would be gritted in case of ice. Our route then was through Ponteland, up Limestone Lane, Stamfordham, Matfen, the Quarry and then the café. The only novel wrinkle this time would be our choice of café, with Capheaton getting the nod for their very last weekend of operating before their Christmas break.

G-Dawg explained that Crazy Legs was actually on dog watch this weekend (i.e. actually dog watching, rather than in the nautical sense of an early evening shift), so wouldn’t be riding, but he would pop along to brief in the route.

Brassneck arrived, mightily pleased with himself for having secured a new Seamonsters cycling jersey to supplement his Bizarro one. Mini Miss looked on, perplexed.

“What’s that?” she wondered.

“A Wedding Present jersey,” he replied enthusiastically.

“But … but it’s not your wedding?” She was even more confused now.

“The Wedding Present are a popular beat combo,” Brassneck explained patiently, before dredging up one of those facts that are so random and inconsequential, that they simply have to be true, “They’re the only popular beat combo to match Elvis’s record of having 12 top 40 UK hits in a single year.”

“Ah. Right. Yeah.” Mini Miss pondered briefly, “Never heard of them!”

“Anyhow, the only problem is, I’ve now got the jersey just in time to put it away for the summer,” Brassneck lamented.

“I’ve just done the same,” TripleD-El informed us proudly, “I found the perfect jersey in Start Cycles, but it was a men’s one, but then I found they did a women’s version and I actually found one in my size, but it had a fault in it, so I thought they probably don’t have another one, but they did, so I bought that and now I’ve got it packed away until the summer. It’s the perfect blue to match my bike,” she added.

I looked at her Liv bike, then at her, then back down at her bike. From where I was standing, all I could see was a black bike frame.

“But your bike’s black?”

“It has blue highlights,” she insisted.

I looked again and still couldn’t see any blue. Maybe it was the flat lighting on an admittedly dull and grey day and in bright sunlight the bike would look completely transformed? Maybe the bike’s like one of those Magic Eye tricks that you have to stare at for long minutes before a secret picture is finally revealed? (They never work for me either). Maybe I just lack imagination, or just maybe I was being set-up in some sort of elaborate Dutch con game?

“I can’t see any blue,”

She looked down exasperatedly, but couldn’t seem to find any blue herself, then pointed determinedly at her bartape which had tiny holographic snowflakes etched into its surface.

Ok, I guess if the light catches those in a certain way they maybe-might appear blue …

I think the moral of this story is to never imply criticism of a woman’s attempts at colour-coordination. Ever.

Crazy Legs failed to show up to wave us off. (It’s understandable, the trauma of seeing others ride away while you’re not allowed to could break any man.) So G-Dawg briefed in the route, then chivvied, arm-twisted and cajoled us into two roughly even-sized groups. Group#2 was the most popular this week, I suspect because Jimmy Mac was with Group#1, so it would probably feature an unrelenting pace. As a result slightly more chivvying, arm-twisting and cajoling than usual was needed. Still, we got there in the end. Ish.

And off we went…

I fell alongside Zardoz and learned about further devastation that Storm Arwen had wrought on the region, forcing some re-jigging and the curtailment of a portion of the Winter Wonderland event his wife organises each year at Kielder Forest. (Zardoz still denies that he’s grown his fluffy white beard in anticipation of being given a starring role in Santa’s Workshop there, but no one believes him.)

We also had a chat about mountain climbing and how so many people have now climbed Everest that it’s just not all that remarkable anymore and yet they’re still dying while making the attempt. I suggested that climbing the mountain was firmly off my bucket-list and Zardoz helpfully introduced me to the concept of the anti-bucket-list, or fuck-it list. Splendid. Climbing Everest is definitely going in my fuck-it list.

At this point we were traveling along Limestone Lane, our original front pairing had peeled off and G-Dawg and Cowboys were now on point and in the wind, while we followed just behind.

“We’re getting awfully close to the front?” Zardoz suggested, starting to get twitchy.

“Do you want to call a pee-stop?” I wondered.

“Oh, am I that transparent?”

I re-assured him that it being G-Dawg on the front we were probably good until well after Stamfordham and so it proved and we made it to the top of the Quarry before the front was ceded. I took up the lead alongside Brassneck, as at that point Zardoz had somewhat mysteriously disappeared back into the pack, and we led the rest of the way to the café.

Having been served, I arrived at the table in time to hear Goose declare that the Moderna COVID vaccine was undoubtedly and irrefutably the best, because:

A. It was the vaccine he himself had received and,

B. It was the most expensive.

He was naturally implying that Moderna’s price was an indicator of quality and not simply the avarice of the faceless pharmaceutical conglomerate that produced it.

He illustrated his point with the example of two pairs of shoes, one pair costing £10 and the other £100.

“Which do you think would be better quality?” he challenged.

“Well, you wouldn’t get far in £10 shoes,” G-Dawg suggested, not unreasonably.

“No, but you’d have 9 other new pairs to change into,” Goose surmised, undermining his own argument and somewhat missing the point that someone who bought £10 shoes instead of £100 ones was unlikely to be able to afford to spend £100 either on a single, or multiple pairs.

I think at this point he was suggesting that quantity has a quality all of its own. Perhaps the greatest thing that Napoleon never said.

Hold on, that’s not right is it – the greatest thing Napoleon never said includes everything everyone else has ever said, including things like, “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” or “time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” I think I mean the greatest thing attributed to Napoleon that he never actually said.

I was momentarily distracted by G-Dawg’s choice of cake, coffee and ham and pease pudding sandwich.

“Lunch?” I wondered.

“Probably not.”

Fair enough.

By the time I tuned into the conversation on the other side of the table, Goose had moved on to speculating about why the French demand swimmers wear Speedo-style budgie smugglers in public pools. This, in turn, reminded him of the TV-series, Man from Atlantis, who Goose accused of wearing skin-tight, bright yellow, budgie smugglers.

I countered that they definitely weren’t Speedo’s, but shorts and I thought they were the sort of blue that would match TripleD-El’s bike. To be fair, at this point and not having actually seen the blue in question, I felt I could get away with matching it to practically any hue.

Anyway, Mr. Google later informed me that we were both right. And we were both wrong too. The Man from Atlantis did indeed wear shorts, not budgie smugglers. The shorts were indeed bright yellow and not blue.

We then tried to recall the actual premise for the show, which someone suggested was about crime-fighting, a bit like Batman, but set underwater. We then tried to imagine the types of underwater crime the Man from Atlantis could tackle, but other than someone plotting to rob Dogger Bank (boom tsk), we drew a blank.

Perhaps, someone then suggested, he was employed by French municipal authorities to ensure no one went swimming in pools while wearing shorts. Plausible, but surely scant material for the ensuing 2-series and 17 episodes?

By this time we’d pinned the show to around the early 80’s, identified its main star as Patrick Duffy and Brassneck had clarified that the Man from Atlantis had webbed feet, which he demonstrated by helpfully waggling his fingers in the air.

“Webbed feet? He must be from Norwich,” Captain Black quipped.

“Was Patrick Duffy from Norwich?” Goose enquired in all seriousness and above the whooshing noise Captain Black’s remark made as it sailed way over his head.

“Hold on, hold on,” Goose finally interjected, “Isn’t Patrick Duffy dead?”

We assured him that, to the best of our knowledge, he wasn’t.

“Oh, ok. I thought he was shot in the shower or something…”

Things were starting to get a little surreal, which Brassneck added to by suggesting Man from Atlantis was all well and good, but not a patch on Manimal.

“Manimal,” he explained, “could transform into various animals like a hawk or a jaguar.” He recalled it starred an English actor, which Google then confirmed as Simon MacCorkindale.

Most of us could vaguely remember the title of Manimal, but nothing else about the series. No one could remember Simon MacCorkindale, either, but strangely we all knew of his second wife, Susan George.

Even Brassneck was now struggling to remember which animals Manimal transformed into.

“A squirrel,” someone suggested, “And then at the end, he gets run over by a car.”

“A rabbit,” I suggested, “trying to sneak into an armed camp, he’s caught in a searchlight and freezes for the rest of the episode?”

None of our mockery seemed to have any effect on Brassneck and I’m convinced he went home and spent an age reconnecting with Manimal on YouTube

When next I looked up Zardoz was standing over Goose, brandishing his Rapha rain jacket in front of him like a matador’s cape, while Goose struggled with his phone and after an age of fiddling, took a photo of the inside of the jacket.

“No, no, that didn’t work,” Goose exclaimed.

“You need a photo of the outside,” someone suggested.

More fiddling with the phone, another unsuccessful photo and then more fiddling as Goose tried to work out how to turn his flash on. Kid’s and their phones, eh? They just won’t leave them alone.

Finally, Goose got the flash to work and showed us the resulting picture, the flash lighting up Zardoz’s jacket and transforming its dark purple appearance into a glowing, iridescent masterpiece. Quite impressive, but to my mind not a patch on the retina-burning reflective qualities of Proviz kit.

With enough nonsense disgorged to last us for another week, off we went again, following a standard route home. The first part back was cold, the second half was wet and somewhere along the way, Aether apparently claimed a sprint win that only he was contesting.

The miles passed without incident and I was soon heading off solo. A bit of pavement surfing got me through a closed stretch of road without having to detour and I started to climb the Heinous Hill just as the rain began in earnest. I was quite looking forward to a hot shower when I got home, but it wasn’t until I’d fished through all my jersey pockets three times that I realised I’d gone out without my keys.

I checked on the whereabouts of Mrs. SLJ, but she was off across town with Thing#2 who had a hair appointment and they were not due back for at least an hour or so. With the rain settling in, I did the only thing sensible and retired to Pedalling Squares for light refreshments and a chance to watch Wout van Aert ride away with another cyclo-cross race.

I think I’m really lucky to have a cycling cafe on my doorstep (even better with an LBS attached too) but it did mean a double assault on the Heinous Hill. Still, caffeine fuelled and ably bolstered by a fruit scone, the second ride up actually proved significantly easier than the first.

I finally got home in time to get ready and head out to a club social that evening. This involved too many poppadoms, a damn fine chicken Dhansak and numerous bottles of Cobra, while a grand time was had by all.

Dear me, we talk more than enough bolleaux after just a cup of coffee, adding large quantities of alcohol into the mix has a quite, quite startling multiplier effect.

Just as well I’m sworn to secrecy then …


Day & Date:Saturday 11th December 2021
Riding Time:107km/66 miles with 1,071m of climbing
Riding Distance:4 hours 46 minutes
Average Speed:22.4km/h
Group Size:21 riders, 1 FNG’s
Temperature:2℃ to 7℃
Weather in a word or two:Dissociative identity disorder
Year to Date:4,716km/2,930 miles with 50,464m of climbing

Coffee and scone supplied by Pedalling Squares

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Club Run, Saturday 26th October, 2019

Total Distance: 108 km/67 miles with 1,091 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 39 minutes
Average Speed: 23.3 km/h
Group Size: 22 riders, 2 FNG’s
Temperature: 7℃
Weather in a word or two: Better than expected

Ride Profile

On with the rain jacket again, in the face of a chilly start and the forecast foretelling of persistent rain that never quite materialised.

The weather wasn’t dire enough to make a Flat White Ride a necessity instead of a luxury, but Taffy Steve had one organised regardless. He even pre-publicised it on the inter-web thingie, much to the confusion of our Dutch contingent, who read it and instantly became nostalgic for a club run, back in “Het Oude Land” – one totally devoid of any hills. They seemed horribly disappointed to learn a Flat White Ride had more to do with consuming hot beverages, than the topography of the route actually covered.

(Things were further confused by the Hammer misreading the post as promoting a Far Right Ride, leading to expectations that the run might end at the coast, where all “ferriners” would be forcibly ejected from the country.)

I suffered the first needless close pass of the day as I topped the final rise before a gradual descent down to the meeting place. Sadly, it wasn’t to be the last, which left me wondering if these things come in batches?

Despite this, I arrived safely and only a few minutes late, having been held up at a level crossing and then seemingly every single traffic light on my run in.

I joined the growing assembly of slightly damp cyclists under the dank eaves of the multi-storey car park.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

Jimmy Mac was at pains to ensure everyone knew the great sacrifices he had made in order to plan and lead today’s run. He told us that had he known it would coincide with England’s Rugby World Cup semi-final, he would never have volunteered and he pleaded for sworn secrecy in the event that anyone was following the score live. I think he even considered confiscating everyone’s mobiles, before the practicality of riding around with jersey pockets stuffed with 20 odd phones struck home.

G-Dawg seemed unfazed by the prospect of hearing the result and confessed that he didn’t like the tension of watching games live. He preferred knowing the result before he sat down to watch a recording, rationalising he could then decide not to watch, if the team he was supporting had lost.

I wondered how this sat with his great love for the Sunderland football team and he ruefully admitted that, if he took this policy to its ultimate limit – and only watched when they won, he might never get to see them play ever again.

“I have a friend who’s a bit of an expert on rugby and he reckons 60/40 in favour of the All Blacks,” Crazy Legs proclaimed.

“He’s predicting a high scoring game then?” Biden Fecht apparently quipped cleverly, or so I found out when I tried out the exact same crack moments later. Sheesh, late to the party again. I was derided, ridiculed and sent to the back of the class.

Crazy Legs then spent some time wrestling with what I took to be a new Garmin device, which apparently had “gone dark” all of its own accord. I wondered, if perhaps it had been the threat of being confiscated by Jimmy Mac that had pushed it into going off grid.

Crazy Legs found that even peering at the dull display through his super-happy, sunny-yellow, sun specs didn’t help, even though said specs usually make him so happy he’ll spontaneously burst out singing his ultimate happy-smiley-song: “Best Day Ever” by a certain Mr. Spongebob Squarepants.

He wondered where our Garmin wizard, the Red Max was, reasoning he would be able to fix the display by pressing some arcane, ambidextrous combination of different buttons. I didn’t have the heart to tell him about the time the Red Max set my Garmin up and managed to sync it to his own heart rate monitor. Or what an eye-popping revelation that had been …

Meanwhile, Crazy Legs became distracted by a great universal imponderable…

“What is on the upper floors of this car park, anyway?” he wondered.

None of us had ever had reason to venture up, so we couldn’t help, but he determined he would route his next ride up and down the car park ramps on a brave voyage of discovery. I can’t help thinking there might even be a Strava KOM in it.


Despite the weather and competing attentions of a certain game of rugby, we were twenty-strong by the time we pushed off, clipped in and rode out, with two late arrivals, Buster and Spoons, bolstering our numbers with perfectly timed late arrivals.

I had a chat with TripleD-Bee, resigned to a hilly ride after all, but not appreciating the threat of rain. He confessed he’d rather be in bed, but TripleD-El had shamed him into coming out.

As a bit of a novelty, our route out traced the same roads we travel over on our return leg, which gave us a double-dip into the dangerous overtaking of drivers on Berwick Hill. It also put the cafe at Kirkley Cycles in striking distance of the Flat White Club, who were soon breaking away for their caffeine and cake fix.

We pushed along and, as we started to climb up to Dyke Neuk, I slipped off the front and drifted to the back, determined to take an extremely relaxed approach and safe in the knowledge we’d be stopping at the top.



As we briefly paused, we learned that Mini Miss had taken her new Liv for a bike fit, but hadn’t used it since and now it was safely tucked away for the winter.

Goose recounted how the only thing he got out of his £180 bike fit was a solitary 1mm plastic shim, to place between one shoe and cleat. G-Dawg reasoned it probably served no earthly purpose, but was simply a token gesture by the bike-fitter to justify his high-prices.

A brief discussion about the lottery of being excluded from the clubs official Facebook page could shed no light on the seemingly random and arbitrary bans issued to various, long-standing club members, so we pushed on, just as perplexed as ever.

We dropped down Curlicue Hill and then started the climb back through the Trench. Behind G-Dawg was discussing his fixie and being asked about the gearing he used.

“38-14.” G-Dawg affirmed.

“38-14,” Biden Fecht repeated, in a voice loud enough to carry to the front, where Jimmy Mac was toiling away relentlessly. He paused masterfully, before adding, “Was that the final score, then?”

Ooph! Cruel …

By the time we topped the Trench I was feeling as tired as I had last week. I don’t know why, but I’m just not “feeling it” at the moment and everything seems to be harder than it should.

Things aren’t being helped by my saddle, a relatively new Fabric Line, which I just can’t get away with and seems to be becoming increasingly uncomfortable the more I use it. After years of using the ever-reliable Charge Spoon saddle for a comfortable, budget friendly seat, the (revamped and re-named) company’s replacement, the Line is a sore disappointment (both literally and metaphorically) and likely to be discarded soon.

I was just gathering myself for a hurtful assault of Middleton Bank, when Mini Miss called out that she had a puncture. About half a dozen of us dropped back and got the tube changed without too much fuss. I did most of the heavy lifting, but left G-Dawg to the tricky cryogenics of freezing his fingers to the valve stem, as he deployed Mini Miss’ CO2 canister to quickly inflate the tyre.

With all impetus gone for our assault on Middleton Bank, we rode up it at a relatively comfortable pace and I was able to sit in the wheels until the final drag, where I eased back and let the cafe sprint unfold, participating purely as a spectator.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

There was a lot of adult talk at the table about skiing and different types of snow and chalet’s and resorts and … err, prostitutes, if I was following the conversation correctly. (To be fair, I probably wasn’t.)

Skiing sounds like great fun, but, you know, old dog/new tricks and all that. A combination of age, brittle bones, rickety knees and penury, combined with the opportunity cost of going on holiday somewhere cold instead of somewhere warm, means I’m very unlikely to ever give it a go.

New kid Sid brought me the news that Peter Sagan had agreed to ride the 2020 Giro d’Italia. He then entertained me with a series of photos of Sagan possessively cuddling the Trofeo Senza Fine, while Richard Carapaz looked on, wearing the kind of expression you’d find on a possessive and insecure husband watching a charismatic stranger pawing at his younger wife.


On the way home I dropped in alongside Carlton, who had recently joined a running club, but found the experience rather disconcerting, as no one there shouts at him and everyone seems to rub along without too much hysteria or fuss.

He suggested we were all mature, smart and phlegmatic, Brits (or Dutch), who didn’t need to over-dramatise the most innocuous of incidents and make mountains out of molehills.

As we set of along the lane to Berwick Hill a silver 4×4 swept past in the opposite direction, pointedly too fast and both deliberately and dangerously much too close. That’s what I would typically call a punishment pass, although punishment for what exactly I really don’t know.

He came within millimetres of Goose, whose taken to his steel touring behemoth for the winter, with all the antlers, prongs, pannier racks and cages. Luckily for Goose he was deeply engaged in conversation and the danger he was in didn’t really register until the car screamed past, at which point his eyebrows shot away to cower under his helmet.

Luckily for the driver, he didn’t come closer and tangle with the steel behemoth – it might have been an uneven challenge that he couldn’t possibly lose, but the steel behemoth was likely to inflict considerable damage on his shiny vehicle as it went down fighting.

A bit further along and we had another close call, as the driver of a small hatchback tried to squeeze past in too little space.

“Bloody hell, he’s a cyclist too – he has a bike in the back!” Biden Fecht complained, in a mixture of incomprehension and indignation .

“That’s probably from the last cyclist he hit,” I countered, “Like a serial-killer, he’s collecting trophies.”

Outlandish as this claim was, it was actually a more palatable explanation than “one of our own” going rogue and driving like an arse-hat, with no consideration for fellow cyclists and other road users.

A bit further on and young Sid took a sudden and unsignalled dart into a lay-by, causing a mass application of brakes and a dozen voices crying out “Whoa!” in perfect unison, before pressure was applied to pedals once more and on we whirred.

A fairly phlegmatic and undramatic response to a dodgy manoeuvre. I hoped Carlton didn’t feel too discomfited by our lack of hysteria and hyperbole-inflected ranting…


YTD Totals: 6,644 km / 4,128 miles with 87,130 metres of climbing

Riding the Fine Line between Foibles and Rissoles

Riding the Fine Line between Foibles and Rissoles

Club Run Saturday 5th October 2019

Total Distance: 110 km/68 miles with 1,273 m of climbing
Riding Time: 4 hours 31 minutes
Average Speed: 24.2km/h
Group Size: 20 riders, 1 FNG
Temperature: 14℃
Weather in a word or two: Cool and dry.

Saturday was a grey and cool, but generally still day. Pleasant, but not quite shorts weather (although Jimmy Mac disagreed) and while I needed the extra layer of a windproof jacket for the trip across to the meeting point, it was quickly abandoned and tucked away in a back pocket before we got underway.


Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:

The Hammer complemented someone on a carefully colour coordinated bike and kit, before declaring, “Never trust a cyclist who doesn’t colour coordinate.

Crazy Legs was about to endorse the view when, interrupted by an involuntary thought, he reached up to pat all around his helmet. This failed to satisfy his concerns, so he unbuckled his helmet, picked it off his head and brought it down to eye-level to squint at it and confirm he’d chosen the right one, it matched his jersey and he was suitably colour-coordinated

I had missed Taffy Steve’s triumphal return last week when I was hiding from the early morning rain, but he was back, propped up by Voltarol (other pain relief gels are available), which he’s buying by the case load. He’s determined it’s the only thing making his damaged rotator cuff sufficiently bearable to ride with. Other than that there’s no real treatment beyond physiotherapy which apparently doesn’t include painting and decorating. He knows this, because he tried.

Being unable to lift his arm above waist height, I couldn’t help imagining a series of rooms with beautifully decorated, pristine walls up to an impromptu, free-hand dado-rail height, above which the paint was a clashing, contrasting colour, aged, dirty and scabrous.

Sneaky Pete was also making a return, but his was from a pleasant sojourn on the Côte d’Azur and he asserted he could very easily see himself living there. He’d even managed to fit a sneaky ride into his holiday, having hired a bike for the day.

“The guy in the bike hire shop asked if I was a racer and declared I had racers legs,” he admitted somewhat reluctantly.

“I feel a change in blerg nickname is called for,” Taffy Steve mused, “How does Racer Legs sound?”

It dawned on Sneaky Pete that he’d said something injudicious within my earshot and that, of course, I have absolutely no discretion …

So, Sneaky Pete, or Steel Rigg, or White Stripes, or Racer Legs. Hmm, he’s collecting almost as many monikers as the Garrulous Kid, a.k.a. Zoolander, a.k.a. Helen, a.k.a. Fresh Trim, a.k.a. Jar-Jar Binks etc. etc. ad nasueum.

We were interrupted by a loud noise that sounded exactly like a bus suddenly releasing it’s air brakes, which itself sounds uncannily like a bicycle tyre enduring an unexpected, catastrophic failure. We looked around to see OGL rolling to a stop, as behind him a bus pulled away from he stand.

Long seconds ticked slowly past, tension building, while we wondered which way this audible coin was going to fall, before we heard, “Oh bugger, puncture.”

OGL set about stripping out his punctured front tube and replacing it, while we turned our attention to Mini Miss’ new bike, a sleek, smart looking Liv, aerobike in a dark, purplish-blue. The only awkward thing about it would appear to be the model name, the EnviLiv?

It might be brand new, it might look fantastic, but the EnviLiv did not come with the gears properly set up, so OGL had no sooner repaired his puncture than Mini Miss was leaning on him to fettle her new bike too. There’s no rest for the wicked.

While this was going on in the background, the Hammer outlined our route for the day, which included a climb up the Ryals, for potentially the last time this year. I can honestly say it won’t be missed.

About 20 strong, we decided not to split the group, pushed off, clipped in and rode out. At the traffic lights we checked to see if we were all together and found OGL missing, still stranded where we’d been gathered. He called across that he’d actually blown out the sidewall of his tyre, was heading home for a replacement and would make his own way to the cafe.

One down already, but I’m pretty sure we were all bravely determined not to let it spoil our ride…


I pushed onto the front alongside Jimmy Mac and we led the group out, occasionally calling back to Crazy Legs for directions as, naturally, neither of us had really been paying that much attention to the route outline.

As we took the road to Prestwick, Jimmy Mac started bunny hopping the (ridiculously over-large) speed bumps, encouraged by a chortling Crazy Legs shouting “Olé!” each time he went airborne, while I winced inwardly each time he came thumping down, half expecting his wheels to suddenly disintegrate and collapse under him.



Through the village of Ponteland, Crazy Legs called up, “Listen to all the happy chatter behind.”

“This is serious,” I growled back, “they’re not supposed to be enjoying it.”

“Silence!” Crazy Legs immediately bellowed, “the Ride Leader is disappointed to think you might be having fun.”

For the next minute or so there was an awkward, guilty silence, before the noise burbled up again. Are we that inured to being so thoroughly browbeaten?

Reaching the end of Limestone Lane and after a decent stint of perhaps 15km on the front, I peeled off, swung wide and drifted to the back.

There I found the Hammer, policing the group from the rear and we had a brief chat about possible destinations for another continental invasion next year, with the northern Dolomites being an early front-runner, depending on flights and accessibility.

We also touched on group size and dynamics as well, including how (more by luck than good management) we all somehow managed to bump along, despite being a generally disparate and diverse bunch, each, as the Hammer diplomatically put it, with our own peculiar foibles.

“Yep,” I agreed, ” We all definitely have foibles.”

“And there’s a very fine line between foibles and assholes,” the Hammer remarked sagely, “But somehow it seems to work.”

When we stopped for a comfort break, Crazy Legs declared an impromptu meeting of the Flat White Club, for all those who didn’t want to tackle the Ryals.

“Two coffee stops!” Otto Rocket exclaimed, somewhat scandalised.

“No,” Crazy Legs corrected her, “One coffee stop, one Flat White club meet.”

They’re different.

Apparently.

A little further along and the Flat White Club swung off, leaving the rest of us on the road to the delightfully named, but blink and you’ll miss it, Little Bavington and firmly en route to the Ryals.

Just before the descent to the village, a harsh rumble from my rear wheel heralded an untimely puncture and I pulled to a stop. I urged everyone to keep going, but obviously wasn’t persuasive enough, so they pulled over a little further up the road and Spoons dropped back to help.

As I wrestled manfully, but spectacularly unsuccessfully to prise my tyre off the rim to replace the tube, Spoons unzipped my tool tub to pull out one of my two spares and pump.

After much swearing and skinned knuckles, I finally managed to prise and peel the reluctant tyre from the rim, where it seemed almost to have adhered in place. I think I’ve been rolling on the same tyres for almost two years now and had their replacements ready and hanging in the shed for over a year without ever feeling the need to change them.

Surprisingly the tyre slipped back onto the rim without too much effort, I semi-inflated the tube and slotted the wheel back into the frame. As I did this, Spoons helpfully rolled up the punctured tube and slotted it into my tool tub.

Re-attaching my pump I started trying to inflate the tyre, but was getting nowhere. I unscrewed and reattached the hose. Nothing. I unscrewed the hose, tested the valve, tightened and loosened it and reattached the pump. Still nothing. I swapped my pump for Spoons’ pump. Still nothing. This was frustrating and in danger of turning into the longest tyre change in club history.

I told Spoons to rejoin the group and get everyone moving again, while I tried to channel some inner calm. Alone and feeling less pressured, I stood the bike against a nearby wall, securely attached the pump hose to the valve yet again and gave it a few blows. Success, the tyre started to inflate and slowly harden beneath my prodding thumb.

One slow, painful, puny upper-body cardio-vascular work out later, I felt drained and light-headed, but able to set off in pursuit of the rest of the group. I thought that even if I didn’t manage to rejoin, I might be able to at least see them ahead of me as they scaled the Ryals.

I took the climb through Hallington and rattled down the other side, swerving around potholes, gravel moraines, muddy puddles, a scattered windfall of broken branches and tussocks of wiry grass. Thankfully, I’ve been led to believe this particular track has now been removed from the Beaumont Trophy – and not before time. I couldn’t imagine actually travelling at break-neck speed down this road in a tightly packed, bunch of grizzled pros.

I was spat out at the bottom onto the road that drags its way up toward the Ryals, which rose like a wall in front of me. It was here that I expected to see at least the tail-end of the group battling with the slope, but the road ahead was completely empty. They must really have put the hammer down once they left me.

I dragged myself up the climb (as unpleasant and uninspiring as always) and tried to pick up the pace over the top.

Swinging left onto the road up to the Quarry, I spotted a lone cyclist in front of me. It wasn’t one of our group, but gave me a hare to chase and encouraged me to push the pace up a little more.

I caught him at the top of the slope, exchanging a quick greeting as I swung past and off to the right. Another cyclist coming down the road burned past us both. Perfect timing, now I had another target to chase down and I started to wind up the speed again.

I caught and passed him on the slow drag up to the crossroads, darted across the road with him on my wheel and then worked to open up a gap. I think he’d decided we were in a race too, so he kept the pressure on through the descent and all the way up to the final junction, which was where I think I finally managed to shake him loose.

All the way I was thinking I would at least see remnants of our group, but they were strangely absent and only OGL and a few later-starters were at the cafe when I arrived.


Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:

I was served, found a table to deposit my tray on and went to wash my hands, filthy from wrestling with tyres. I thought our group might have gone left, rather than right at the top of the quarry and then perhaps been held up by a puncture or mechanical. I settled down to read my emails and was halfway through my coffee before the others started to drift in.

Chatting with Jimmy Mac, we finally worked out that they hadn’t taken the climb through Hallington, but looped around the reservoir. Despite my best chasing, I hadn’t seen anyone on the road, because they’d been behind me all along.

The main group were followed in some minutes later by the Flat White ride, looking suitably fortified and quite relaxed. I couldn’t help thinking they’d chosen the right option.

We learned Plumose Pappus had enjoyed his holiday in Thailand, despite the fact (or maybe because) he’d been frequently mistaken for David Beckham. He’d also only narrowly avoided being arrested for loitering, having spent far too long eyeing up the frozen peas in the chilly sanctuary of a 7-Eleven freezer aisle, the only reliable haven he’d been able to find from the persistent heat and humidity.

A phone embargo was placed on the table, as Jimmy Mac had recorded that mornings England’s vs. Argentina rugby game and was desperate to avoid the score. For my part, I’m not convinced the tournament has quite got going yet, despite one or two shock results and I had no expectation of anything but a handsome England win.

Still, with a rugby international to look forward to and late arrival at the cafe, in no small part due to my tyre-fumblings, we were keen to get back on the road and formed up as the first group to head home.


At this point I discovered my rear tyre was flat again and waved the group away while I once more set about replacing the tube. I unhooked the wheel and managed to strip out the tube without any of the early difficulties. Checking the inside of the tyre I found one of natures caltrops, a vicious thorn sticking through the tread. I assume I’d just picked this up and it wasn’t a holdover from my first puncture, but I guess I’ll never know.

I pushed and pinched the thorn out, and unzipped my tool case to get at my pump and spare inner tube … to be confronted by two indistinguishable tubes, the original, punctured one from earlier this morning that Spoons had carefully and helpfully packed away for me and a new, undamaged one.

They both looked identical, pristine and untouched, but which was which. I picked one at random opened the valve and forced some air into it. It seemed to be holding, so I fitted it and wrestled the tyre back onto the rim.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find I’d picked the wrong tube and no matter how hard I worked the pump it never got beyond slightly squishy. Cursing my own stupidity, I set about replacing the tube again … and that’s where the second group to leave the cafe found me, struggling to force the last section of tyre back onto the rim, only to discover all my upper-body strength seemed to have deserted me.

Crazy Legs lent a hand and we finally manged to seat the tyre. I added enough air to get me home (later revealed to be a rather paltry 20 psi) and I was glad to get back on the bike and give my arms a rest.

I had a quick chat with the FNG on the run back, but with time pressing on, left the group early to loop around the opposite side of the airport and shave a few miles off my route home.

I made it back without further incident, but had to leave almost immediately to wander down to the Brassworks at Pedalling Squares, where Patrick had been beavering away on the Peugeot to prepare it for the coming winter.

This gave me a second opportunity to ride up the Heinous Hill in short order, just to round my day off perfectly.

It’s the club hill climb next week. I’m not likely to compete, but I will go along to shout on the kids. Before that though, I’ll be wrestling with tyres once again, it’s way past time to slap those pristine, new Vittoria Rubino’s on Reg.


YTD Totals: 6,144 km / 3,817 miles with 81,078 metres of climbing