Between the Saggy and the Soggy

Between the Saggy and the Soggy

In what I took to be another indicator of fast approaching winter, the Canada Geese that spend their summer splashing noisily around Shibdon Pond were organising for departure, their dyslexic leader forming them up in a very raggedy W-shape, before they winged away westward. I was tempted to shout that they were going the wrong way, but apparently it’s not unusual for them to winter in Ireland, so I would just have just made myself look (even more) stupid.

Still, it got me my first ear-worm of the day, complete with the salutary observation – by the way genius, you’re not walking south …

Every weather app I checked had insisted that today was going to be utterly rain-sodden and miserable, and I had prepared accordingly, pressing the single-speed Trek and its semi-decent mudguards into service – the first time I’d ridden it in maybe six months or more. The weather as I set out though was still and calm, dry and bright, and with a route that included a climb up the Trench, I was beginning to think I’d made a serious misjudgement.

We had a new girl join us at the meeting place and she at least looked the part and hopefully she wasn’t too put off when Brassneck described himself as “one of the quiet ones.” I wondered if this wasn’t a little dangerous, as after just 5 minutes in his presence I could imagine her thinking, “Shit, if he’s one of the quiet ones, I’d hate to meet one of the talkers.”

For some reason, Crazy Legs wanted to know if I recalled the theme tune to The Flashing Blade, a poorly dubbed, but classic TV series that seemed ever present during all my school summer holidays.

“You’ve got to fight for what you want, for all that you believe,” we sang the first part, but disagreed on the second and neither of us knew the next line, so that wasn’t going to keep us entertained on today’s ride.

Courtesy of Google:

You’ve got to fight for what you want,

For all that you believe,

It’s right to fight for what we want,

To live the way we please,

As long as we have done our best,

Then no one can do more,

And life and love and happiness,

Are well worth fighting for.

Eeh, they don’t make ’em like they used to…

Tubeless tyres seemed to be the topic du jour, with Mini Miss committing to her winter bike for the foreseeable, as the tubeless set-up on her summer bike needs urgent attention and she didn’t want to get that done only for the bike to sit idle for three or four months.

Crazy Legs suggested it might be amusing to fill your tyres with sealant and let the bike stand for a while until it hardened and you ended up with two flat spots on your tyres and a rather interesting bumpy ride.

There was some confusion about how to maintain tyre sealant and how often it should be topped-up, or completely replaced, with opinions ranging from every two months to every 6 months. Brassneck was following the approach of topping up his sealant every couple of months and I wondered if, sooner or later, his tyres would become solid and absolutely puncture proof.

“How do you even maintain tubeless tyres?” Crazy Legs wondered, as baffled by their mysteries as I was.

“Oh, that’s easy, ” Mini Miss told him assuredly, “The first step is to put your bike in the car, then you just drive it to a mechanic …”

With a surprisingly robust showing of 28 riders, despite the rather grim weather forecast, we once again ended up with our standard bell-curve distribution: a small, faster/front group, a crowded, much-too-large middle group and then a small collection of odd stragglers. Being something of an odd straggler myself and limited to a terminal velocity of about 22mph on the single-speed, the fit seemed a natural choice and I joined the third group.

Or at least that was the intention, but when it was our turn to go, I kicked my pedal backwards to clip in and the chain slid off the rear sprocket. Huh? I moved it back into place, but the chain sagged down like a middle-aged beer belly, as the rear derailleur the venerable Toshi San had repurposed as a chain tensioner seemed to have lost all its vim and vigour and turned decidedly flaccid.

Crazy Legs graciously offered to loan me a bike, but I decided just to see if I could still ride and how far I might get, warning the group not to be alarmed if I suddenly disappeared. Things seemed fine, as long as I didn’t pedal vigorously backwards, so I fell in with the rest and away we went. After a while I forgot about the saggy chain being a mechanical impediment and just confined my worry to how bad it looked.

I may have failed with the Flashing Blade, but I soon had Crazy Legs running through his repertoire of Sham 69 “hits” after a casual mention of corduroy led (obviously!) to that particular gem of songcraft, ‘Ersham Boys.

Brassneck complained forcefully that no one in front had pointed out the dead squirrel in the road, not because it was an impediment, but simply because it had somehow retained its perfect form and proportions, despite being spread-eagled and completely and absolutely flattened. Apparently, he’d just wanted to be forewarned so he had more time to contemplate its fate and unusual state.

I did a spell on the front from the top of Berwick Hill to Belsay, stopping halfway to allow everyone to pull on jackets as the much-heralded rain finally put in an appearance. The temperature seemed to have suddenly plunged into single figures too and it was pretty miserable and damp for the rest of the ride. Still, I was content because my choice of bike and gear had finally been vindicated.

We started to lose people, “like shelling peas” according to Crazy Legs, who imagined that ultimately, he’d be riding along pointing out potholes and interesting roadkill entirely to himself. Post-operative, still recovering Brassneck went off for a loop on his own around Belsay, OGL had slipped off the back a long, long time before that, and at some point the 33rd Paul took a detour too.

Around Bolam Lake and passing through Angerton, we ran into the back of our second group who’d been delayed when Spoons took a spill and brought down Andeven. There didn’t seem to be any real damage done, but they were still sorting themselves out, so we threaded our way past, although not before losing yet another member of our small and select group in the process, who defected to swell the second group’s ranks further still.

Now all that was left of our group was me, Crazy Legs, Captain Black and Liam the Chinese Rockstar, as we approached the dip and swoop through Hartburn, but in the reverse direction from our usual route. While this meant no adverse camber to contend with on the descent, the final ramp up was markedly steeper, and I felt I was going to struggle. I told Crazy Legs I might not make it up and pushed off the front to give myself a good run at it.

I managed to build up a good head of steam through the dip, but had to watch all the accrued speed slowly bleed away as the road started to rise again. When my computer display dropped under 22mph I started to churn the cranks around and made it past halfway before inadvertently pulling my foot out of the pedal. I unsuccessfully tried clipping in again as forward momentum died a horrible death and I ground to a halt. There was no re-starting on that slope, so I was left to walk the rest of the way. Bah!

A little further on and as we became enmeshed with the converging second group, Crazy Legs called a halt and explained the next bit was a rather pointless loop which went downhill solely to climb back up through the Trench. This he explained he’d added in because A. the Trench was his favourite climb and, perhaps more importantly, B. because it made his route on Strava resemble a giant penis. This detour was then completely optional, and several riders took up his suggestion to miss it out and head straight to the cafe at Kirkley.

The rest of us though dropped down Curlicue Bank and started to make our way to the foot of the Trench. Behind me Crazy Legs and Buster were embroiled in a discussion about learning a foreign language, with Buster currently trying to improve his Spanish. Crazy Legs had been through the same process while learning French and recommended watching foreign language films and TV with subtitles. He was then able to recommend a whole host of films and TV series that were not only royally entertaining but had helped him with the language.

“Err, yeah,” Buster agreed a little uncertainly, “Not that I’m ungrateful, but they’re probably not much good if you want to learn Spanish.” Sheesh. Some people are picky.

Up the Trench we went, with Spoons guiding us (and a following motorist) around the hazard of a decidedly unflat deer carcase flung by a car to one side of the road. We stopped to regroup at the top and then started to a push to the cafe. I got ahead on the descent from Dyke Neuk, so had plenty of slippage room for the climb up to Meldon, before pushing up again on the descent to Whalton and joining Captain Black on the front for the rest of the ride to the cafe.

That was hard work, and I was tired and well-deserving of coffee and cake.

In the cafe, Goose set about a recounting of his midweek ride with Captain Black, which had included a forced detour through the latter’s hometown of Prudhoe because the riverside route around Ovingham had been closed. Or even “Prude-hoe” as Goose insisted on calling it, much to Captain Black’s disgruntlement, “I keep telling you, it’s pronounced Prudduh!”

This detour had then taken them past the Dr Syntax pubs, the unusual names of which had piqued Goose’s interest.

“Where does the name come from?” Goose enquired.

Local lad Captain Black had no idea. And no interest.

“Well, I’m going to find out,” Goose declared, “Shall we find out?”

He brandished his phone.

“I am curious,” he declared.

“Yes, I have heard that said about you.”

Undeterred, Goose went a-Googling.

Dr Syntax, he learned was the fictional creation of William Combe in an early 1800’s poem, a rural schoolmaster who attempted to make his fortune by travelling, and then writing about his experiences of quaint and unusual places.

Okay, so maybe Captain Black had the right of it and that really wasn’t worth knowing.

Meanwhile, Captain Black’s bike troubles were explored as his winter bike had a bottom bracket that, it was alleged, pinged in a musical way, while, according to its rider, the disk brakes on his summer bike would often chime melodiously for no apparent reason. The Singing Ringing bike?

This, it seemed was an issue that needed further exploration and it was suggested he should probably take a xylophone when he took his bikes for a service so he could strike the exact right note when trying to recreate the errant sounds and help to diagnose the problem. We even wondered if bike shops might have their own Shimano, or even (hideously expensive) Campagnolo xylophones to help with diagnostic issues.

I’d remembered a spare, and blissfully dry pair of gloves for the ride home – no small comfort on days like this. Coffee and cake hadn’t quite restored me though, and it was hard work getting up Berwick Hill and even harder coming down the other side when we spent long periods either on or above the bike’s terminal velocity.

I took over on the front alongside Goose as we passed through Dinnington, when at least I could control the pace a little. Then I was peeling off for home and able to have full control on just how slowly I could dawdle back. (Hint: very, very slowly indeed).

Still, I made it around, saggy chain and all and rediscovered some of the joy and simplicity of riding without gears. I have some Look Keo pedals I’ve been meaning to put on the bike for a couple of years now. I picked them up cheap in a sale because they’re white – and seriously, who wants white pedals? If I slap them on in place of the current very worn and somewhat sloppy PlanetX pair, hopefully that’ll stop me accidently unclipping at critical moments.

Then, if I can either sort or find a replacement for the derailleur, I think I’m all set for the winter.


Day & Date:Club Run, Saturday 29th October 2022
Riding Time:5 hours 11 minutes
Riding Distance:110km/70 miles with 1,072m of climbing
Average Speed:21.2km/h
Group Size:27 riders, 1 FNG’s
Temperature:8℃
Weather in a word or two:It took a while … but eventually it was suitably grim
Year to date:4,796km/2,980 miles with 53,097m of climbing
Photo by Brian Forsyth on Pexels.com

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