Internet oddity of the week came from reading about a medical scare in late Victorian Britain that saw doctors warning women about the deleterious effect vigorous cycling would have on their health. Apparently, “over-exertion, the upright position on the wheel and the unconscious effort to maintain one’s balance” was thought to cause bicycle face “hard, clenched jaws and bulging eyes” accompanied by “a flushed complexion, with lips more or less drawn, and the beginning of dark shadows under the eyes”.
Most agreed that bicycle face could strike anyone, but women were disproportionately affected. Some implied the effects could be permanent, while others maintained that, given enough time away from a bicycle, it would hopefully subside.
Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
I decided it was time to bite the bullet and rejoin civilisation, or at least that small portion of civilisation that is (very) loosely embodied in a local cycling club. The hardest part was getting out the door by a set time to get me to the meeting point on schedule. After weeks of a laissez faire, I’ll leave when I’m ready attitude, this was a bit of a shock to the system. Must do better.
Still, I managed somehow and rolled up to the meeting point to find G-Dawg talking to a complete stranger in full Aberdeen University kit, who turned out to be none other than the Garrulous Kid … but all growed-up.
Even more surprising, that elusive, seldom-spotted, Sasquatch-like, Strava-stalker, the BFG was there too and I haven’t seen him out and about on two wheels for over a year. Strange times.
G-Dawg was proudly wearing perhaps one of the gaudiest kits ever inflicted on the pro-peloton, a classic Mapei jersey with it’s jumble of primary coloured cubes, once aptly described by Simon Smythe in Cycling Weekly as “a design that looked like someone had detonated a car bomb beneath a Rubik’s cube.”
He even had Mapei socks and cap, but, “No matching shorts?” I queried.
“I thought they were a little over the top,” he deadpanned.
The BFG decided we all had the air of survivors from a nuclear war, emerging from the solitude of our bunkers to blink, blearily uncertain into the dim light of the future and wonder what remained of the world we’d once known. I don’t think he was too far off the mark.
By the time we had tamped down the blather and were ready to move, we had assembled a small congregation of 15 riders. G-Dawg had posted up a route he invited everyone to follow, the end point of which was an 11.30 re-gathering at the cafe at Kirkley. He then led the first small, select group of 6 out and away.
We gave them a bit of time and space, then, along with Goose, the Ticker and Fourth Down, we formed a rather unlikely quartet and pushed out to follow. None of us had paid much attention to the proposed route and we deviated almost from the off, being the only group to head out along Broadway, but we all seemed happy to accept our personal deviations from the norm.
We were travelling at a fair clip as we pushed through Ponteland, along Limestone Lane to Stamfordham and then out to the reservoir. From there we climbed up through the plantations to get to the Matfen road, then on to the Quarry and through to Belsay.
At this point we were about 2 hours into the ride and had the choice of stopping at Belsay, or pressing on and meeting everyone at Kirkley. No contest really, even if Goose has severe reservations about the Kirkley scones and their current currant content (or lack thereof.)
Just about everyone else had made it to the cafe in good order, along with those who’d ventured out solo, or in smaller groups from a different start point and it was good to catch up. Even better, Goose found an acceptable alternative to the disappointing scones.
I found a seat next to prognosticator-in-chief the Garrulous Kid, who was predicting the end of all things Chris Froome, in particular any further Grand Tour wins. This was expounded with almost as much conviction and fervour as his frequent proclamations that Germany were a nailed-on certainty to win the last World Cup. (We all know how that turned out, so feel free to put a fiver on Mr. Froome for this years Tour.)
We then learned too much about the wild, debauched drinking parties at university, one of which apparently featured a manly imbibing of … err, Prosecco? It was unclear whether these parties were so extreme, wild and debauched that participants even refused to raise their pinkie finger from the glass while downing their Spumante.
There was just time to catch up on the whereabouts of Taffy Steve via Sneaky Pete (still incapacitated with a severe rotator cuff injury) and the Monkey Butler Boy via the Red Max (apparently developing a severe case of bicycle face while not riding bicycles, per se). Then, with Jimmy Mac’s passionate defence of wearing orange socks still burning my ears, we started to slowly disperse.
Crazy Legs and Sneaky Pete were adding on a slightly longer loop home, up Saltwick Hill and I tagged along, realising as soon as I hit the climb that my legs were well and truly shot.
I dropped back using the ungodly racket of the much cossetted Ribble’s creaking bottom bracket and its assault on my ears as an excuse. Crazy Legs wasn’t kidding when he mentioned his bike was still complaining vigorously, despite all his mechanical ministrations.
Jimmy Mac and G-Dawg blew past us just before we entered the Mad Mile, depositing the Garrulous Kid and a gasping Cowin’ Bovril on our back wheels as they flew by.
Cowin’ Bovril suggested he’d been out for a pleasant, solo ride when they caught him and for some mad reason he determined to hang onto the back of the group for the run home. I think we represented a much more sensible and civilised option for the last few miles.
Minutes later and I was flying solo, picking my way through to the river and home. Luckily there were no wandering Victorian chirurgeon’s around as I began to climb up the Heinous Hill, so I managed to avoid being condemned and confined with what I can only assume by then was my own, very bad case of grimacing bicycle face.
Total Distance: 114 km / 71 miles with 1,237 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 4 hours 20 minute
Average Speed: 26.3 km/h
Group size: 19 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Hot and cold
Some blog posts flow easily and just seem to write themselves. I don’t quite understand how or why, but this was one of them and consequently way ahead of schedule, even by my incredibly lax standards.
The run across to the meeting point this week was wholly uneventful and unsurpassingly dull, both physically and metaphorically. It was all carried out under grey and cloudy skies and the ever-present threat of a shower.
I did notice the wind picking up as I slipped back down the other side of the river and began to clamber up and out of the valley, but for the time being it was more a cooling help, than a hindrance.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
At the meeting point, the Garrulous Kid proclaimed complete mental and physical exhaustion, having been away all week at some kind of school camp in the darkest wilds of Pickering, North Yorkshire. Here he had been thoroughly dissolute and debauched, staying up until after 10pm almost every night – and even drinking a beer.
He said it had been a terrible ordeal, buried in a deep, dark, valley where a thready and intermittent, phone signal could only occasionally be found and even then you had to venture out beyond the chicken coop. As a consequence, he’d felt strangely dislocated, cut off from the real world and removed from all important news.
I wondered what he felt he had particularly missed out on, the spreading canker of unconscionable, Trump venality? The tangled, Gordian knot of the infinite-seeming Brexit negotiations? The growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen? Perhaps, the delicately balanced and fraught elections in Zimbabwe?
Nope, his actual concern seemed to be that Demi Lovato had apparently OD’d and he’d not known about it for 2 whole days …
He then began telling us something about Chris Hemsworth.
“Who?” I enquired, looking at G-Dawg for help, but he seemed equally as unenlightened.
“The actor who played for,” the Garrulous Kid offered.
“The actor who played for what?”
“No, no, the actor who played For. Tee-Haitch-Oh-Arr, as in For: Ragnarok,”the Garrulous Kid persisted.
“Oh. Sorry, no idea…”
(I was going to complain about his use of “haitch” instead of “aitch” but practical experience slapped me hard in the face and I realised it would be a hiding to nothing.)
Apparently, the people who ran the school camp had given the Garrulous Kid a brand new nickname, to go along with the 13 or so bestowed upon him by this here, humble blerg and his cycling companions.
Rather worryingly, he didn’t like this new one, either…
Crazy Legs has found watching the ITV coverage of the Toady France a bit of an ordeal, principally because of the constant, ire-inducing, Watchfinders sponsorship: corporate strapline (hah!) “There’s always someone stupid enough to squander a princely sum so they can have a big, ugly, garish and gaudy lump of bling strapped to their wrist, even when it’s not new.”
His complaint was not only with the ad showing someone changing a front wheel while committing the cardinal sin of laying the bike upside down, but why someone who could obviously afford a super-nice bike, along with a big, ugly, garish and gaudy lump of bling strapped to their wrist, should have to ride so painfully slowly.
Perhaps the watch is so heavy it weighs them down, or maybe it’s so expensive they daren’t ride any faster in case they fall off and smash it to smithereens? Or, perhaps they ride slowly so people can see the watch and admire their exquisite, understated style and exemplary taste?
Finishing his mini-rant, our planner and ride leader for the day, Crazy Legs, outlined the route and decided that, with a relatively compact 19 riders, we would roll out as one.
Somewhere along the way we’d be picking up the Colossus, but Richard of Flanders declared he was only out for the first hour, so numbers seemed manageable.
Apparently though, we were still a major and inconvenient impediment to rightful and righteous road-users and, while skirting the airport, we had to suffer a punishment pass from an arse-hat in a horn-blaring, black Range-Rover, sweeping by inches from my elbow as he overtook us around a blind bend. Dick.
One of our guys was wearing shoe covers and revealed he’d checked the BBC hour-by-hour forecast and, for each hour for the rest of the day, there was a 40-60% chance of rain. By his reckoning this was as good as a guarantee that, sooner or later, we were in for a right soaking.
Still suffering from a long-term, persistent chest-infection, Crazy Legs sounded like a consumptive raddled with tuberculosis, hacking away before spectacularly ejecting a bolus of vivid green mucous that would hit the road with a wet splat, like a fully-loaded pizza dropped face down from a great height.
After we’d swapped out the Colossus for Richard of Flanders, Crazy Legs set about organising an autobus for any riders not at 100%, finding the pace too high, or wanting a shorter, more relaxed run to the café. After a bit of horse-trading and negotiation, this groupetto formed at the back of our group and then they eased to allow smooth separation.
With reduced numbers, we pushed on, until force of habit had us swinging right at Matfen for our usual run to the Quarry. We were called back by G-Dawg, as this wasn’t today’s official route and everyone bar the Garrulous Kid turned around to get back to the plan. The Garrulous Kid wandered away for one of his solo romps that always make G-Dawg wonder why he bothers riding with us in the first place. The rest of us re-grouped and pressed on.
Pushing on the front alongside G-Dawg, we took the newly re-laid, back road up the village of Ryal. It seems to have lost most of the loose chippings from its surface, not that it mattered anyway, as Taffy Steve and his unique combination of frame geometry and sticky tyres were absent today and our passage was wholly without incident.
From the village we regathered, before pitching down the Ryals, hitting speeds over 65kph. Planning ahead, G-Dawg had swapped out his deep section carbon rims especially for this descent as, on at least two, previous occasions he’s battled terrifying speed wobbles, tearing down this road.
At the bottom, we swung first right for the sharp clamber up through Hallington and one of my favourite sections of road. As we reached the junction at the other end, we were peppered with a stinging, sudden shower and rain jackets were quickly pulled out and deployed.
At this point, we lost two more, as Rab Dee set off for home and Andeven went for a longer ride.
Ten minutes later and hot from yet more climbing, the sun broke out and jackets were quickly discarded again. We reportedly had it much better than our other group, as although separated by just a few odd miles, they were caught in a sustained hailstorm, while we only got a bit damp around the edges.
Swinging right just before Capheaton, we followed the dogleg route to the short, steep and painful Brandywell Bank climb, which spat us out onto the road down to the Snake Bends.
The speed ratcheted up and we were dragged from two abreast into one single file, riding hell-for-leather down the white lines in the middle of the road to try and avoid all the pots and cracks in the tarmac, which seem to be multiplying on a weekly basis.
I hung grimly onto the back of this compact, ultra-fast group, as Caracol, Rainman and the Colossus tried to outdo each other in a flat out sprint. Then we were sitting up and easing through the bends and onto the main road.
G-Dawg, hit the front and drove the pace up a notch and then I followed, before ceding to Caracol and then, G-Dawg again, as we closed rapidly on café and a much deserved break for coffee and cake.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
It was black bin bags all round, to sit on at the café as we were rather water-logged and, as I mentioned to the Colossus, each a couple of pounds heavier than when we set out.
G-Dawg revealed that, despite changing his wheels, he still had a heart-stopping speed wobble on the descent of the Ryals, so his deep-section, carbon rims weren’t the cause.
He’s now at a loss to explain the reason and not sure how to fix it, other than changing a few things and constantly hurling himself downhill to see if it makes a difference. As this would involve deliberately trying to induce a speed wobble, I can understand his reticence to investigate further.
The Colossus showed us video from up the coast of the impressive thunderstorms that had washed over us during the night. G-Dawg reported these had been so intense, the pre-season game between Sunderland and Middlesbrough – (I almost made the mistake of calling it a “friendly”) – had been abandoned, for fear of lightning strikes.
“Sunderland can’t really afford to lose any players,” G-Dawg concluded.
“Sunderland can’t really afford to lose any fans, either,” I suggested and G-Dawg wearily agreed.
Talk turned to more edifying sporting spectacles, in particular the Toady France, where I found unlikely sources of sympathy for two of the pelotons more maligned riders. Carlton suggested he was close to tears, when he realised Chris “Puff Daddy” Froome wasn’t going to win for a fifth time, while the Rainman was rooting for “Old Stoneface” Quintana, well, if a certain big Dutchman wasn’t going to take the title.
Caracol seemed most impressed with Primoz Roglic, but was worried that, sooner or later, he was going to do that ski-jump landing celebration on the podium, one foot forward, arms flung wide, and smack both podium girls in the face at once.
Personally, I don’t think anyone is ever going to top Sondre Hols Enger’s podium dance as a celebration…
… and, no matter how dangerous Roglic’s manouver, anything has to be an improvement on Nibali wiggling his fingers on top of his helmet in an extremely cheesy approximation of a shark fin.
Someone mentioned the women’s team kit with flesh coloured panels that made them look as if they were half-naked. The Rainman thought there was a new male variant, based apparently on a lime coloured mankini … and I sensed possibilities for a new club jersey…
Everyone had their own version of the worst jersey ever, Castorama dungarees got a mention, along with Carrera fake-denim, though somewhat surprisingly no one mentioned the brown shorts of AG2R.
Carlton disliked the super-bright, super-colourful Mapei kit, but conversely this was one of G-Dawg’s favourites and a serious contender for his next jersey purchase.
As we were tidying up as a prelude to leaving, the Garrulous Kid swung by and informed us he’d met up with the Crazy Leg’s grupetto just before the café, but had ridden right past them. We expressed some disapproval that he hadn’t lent his efforts to helping them out, but he insisted Crazy Legs himself had told him to ride on.
The Colossus nodded in understanding, then proceeded to give what we felt was probably a highly accurate re-enactment of what Crazy Legs had actually said, while shooing the Garrulous Kid up the road.
“Oh, go away … No, further … Further … Further still. Look, keep riding until you can’t hear my voice…”
We continued gathering our things, plonking wet helmets onto heads and squeezing fingers into sodden gloves. Quite unpleasant.
I started collecting the black bags to hand in. “Hey, “ the Colossus called, “You know you could almost use those to put rubbish in, as well.”
Good shout, I should probably mention that to the staff next time…
Outside and for the first time in about six or seven weeks, it actually felt cold, we were shivering and impatient to get away to warm up. We now found the wind had strengthened considerably and it was a real struggle on the front. It wasn’t all bad though, having blown up from the south and torn the clouds apart, so at least we had some bright and warm patches too.
Crazy Legs and Caracol drove us up and over Berwick Hill, before G-Dawg and Andeven took over, battling head on into the wind as we worked our way around the perimeter of the airport. Crowds lined either side of the road, perhaps drawn there, I thought, to witness the edifying, unequal battle of man against the elements.
But no, they were actually there for some plane spotting, as the airport was being used as a staging post for the Sunderland Airshow.
I was painfully reminded of this by the sustained, ear-shattering shriek of military jet engines, which someone said belonged to the Red Arrows, screaming down the nearby runway to take off in formation. I’ve no reason to doubt them, but I looked all around the sky and totally failed to spot any of the tell-tale, bright red, BAE Hawk’s, or anything else for that matter.
With G-Dawg visibly flagging in his unequal battle with the wind, Crazy Legs and Caracol took over on the front again and drove us down to the Mad Mile. There, I hung on the wheels until the last minute, before swinging away at the roundabout and turning right past the rugby ground.
I was soon battling solo with the wind and then, a few turns later, trying to climb uphill with it blasting full force into my face. Finally, cresting the valley and dropping down toward the river, I found even here I had to pedal to keep my momentum up and it was hard work.
Out onto the bridge and all the signs and barriers were blown flat, laid low by the gusting wind. I clung to the guardrail to let a MTB’er ease past. He could take the expediency of just riding over all the mesh fence panels, fallen road signs and plastic barriers, trusting to his fat, tractor tyres to negotiate the obstacles safely, while I hung back to give myself space to pick my way carefully through all the windblown debris.
“Bit blowy!” he confirmed, riding smartly past. I wasn’t about to disagree.
There was just one final obstacle to overcome, a clamber up the Heinous Hill into the unrelenting headwind. Not the best way to end a ride, but we made it, finally.
YTD Totals: 4,530 km / 2,814 miles with 56,420 metres of climbing
Total Distance: 103 km / 74 miles with 781 metres of climbing
Ride Time: 3 hours 59 minutes
Average Speed: 25.8 km/h
Group size: 28 riders, 0 FNG’s
Weather in a word or two: Chilly and very, very wet
They say a week is a long time in politics, but I have to say it’s even longer in relation to the rapidly plummeting fitness levels of ageing and mediocre club cyclists. I returned from holiday four pounds heavier and over a twelve hundred pounds lighter in the wallet, with nothing to show for it but blurred tan lines and a sharp decline in whatever small measure of cycling ability I possess.
This manifested as a real struggle to commute in and out of work, where I felt slow, weak and generally out of sorts. I tried to ride through it and managed to fit in three days commuting before Saturday and the chance to make up for the two club runs I’d missed.
On the commutes I’d noticed the mornings have a distinct chill to them already and had started to think about digging out some long-fingered gloves. In August? Maybe I’m just getting soft.
Saturday morning wasn’t quite so bad, but this was probably the result of the banks of thick, leaden cloud that had been scrawled heavily across the sky in various shades of grey, by my estimation using 2B to 9B pencils. This cloud cover may have provided some degree of insulation overnight, but totally precluded any chance we’d see the sun today.
Still, the roads were dry and the weather forecasts suggested no rain until mid-afternoon, when we’d hopefully be home and hosed.
I slipped smoothly down the Heinous Hill on a new patch of pristine tarmac and pushed on along the valley floor, immediately butting up against a strong westerly. I was rolling along, minding my own business along a wide, straight and totally empty road, when a small, silver hatchback snarled past, too fast and much too close, in what I can only assume was a deliberate attempt at provocation or intimidation.
I gave the driver my best WTF gesture, which he responded to in kind, which only seemed to suggest the close pass had been deliberate and he was watching to see what sort of reaction he’d get. Dick.
The rest of the ride was thankfully uneventful, but I was delayed by even more roadworks and traffic lights along the route. Nevertheless, when I hit my mark of 8.42 miles covered at 8:41 I knew I was on schedule and eased back.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
The Colossus of Roads was there showing off his newly pimped up bike, complete with a new red and shiny chainring to accessorize with all the other red and shiny bling bits: hubs, jockey wheels, quick release skewers, cable ends, bar plugs, seat clamp, gear hanger, headset spacers and the like. To cap it all he’d gone for a gleaming gold chain, which prompted a frankly disapproving OGL to remark that if he took the bike into his shop the first thing he’d do would be to clean the chain because he thought it looked rusty. Let’s just say he seems to have a different aesthetic appreciation than me.
OGL himself was sporting his own “new look” – a sort of scruffy Abe Lincoln-meets-the-Amish with a hint of hill-billy, face fringe with a bare upper lip that reminded me of Mad Willie McDougal, the caretaker at Springfield Elementary School. Crazy Legs wondered aloud if OGL had deliberately cultivated his face fungus in club colours, the mix of ginger and white bristles lacking only a touch of lime to be a perfect match for the white, tangerine and green of the club jersey.
OGL suggested he was considering keeping the face fringe for a function he was attending at a local brewery, when a plan for excess libation could perhaps induce a gangrenous, green tinge to his features to complete the transformation to club colours in their full … err … glory.
The Monkey Butler Boy was at the meeting point, as a precursor to joining up with his new clubmates somewhere en route and took the opportunity to terrify me by flashing his startlingly white, utterly blank and featureless chest, the likes of which I’ve only ever seen on strangely asexual, abstract shop mannequins.
The pristine snowscape of the Monkey Butler Boy’s unblemished upper torso contrasted starkly with the dark brown of his lower limbs, creating some razor-sharp, cyclists tan lines, a badge of honour that he seemed inordinately proud of. So proud, in fact then when joining a new college and being pressed to help come up with a suitable nickname, he’d flashed a half brown-half white bicep and suggested “Tan Lines.” In this way and much to his regret, he’s now been saddled with the unwanted moniker of “Fake Tan.”
(Still, it could have been worse, the last time I saw the Monkey Butler Boy in civvies (or at least his Mother’s jeans!) he was a combination of deep tan, red and raw sunburn and a rather startling ghostly and underexposed white, that looked like nothing so much as a giant Neopolitan ice cream.)
We wondered why Crazy Legs was uncharacteristically quiet, but apparently he was simply mesmerised and in the thrall of the larger than life “Atomic Blonde” movie poster splashed across the entire side of a double-decker bus. Apparently he was having trouble speaking through the puddle of drool that was overflowing from his mouth and dripping noisily onto the pavement. The Garrulous Kid confirmed I was looking at a picture of the rather anodyne and strangely characterless (IMHO) beauty that is actress “Charlies Felon.”
Crazy Legs finally managed to stir himself long enough to outline our plans for the day and left to lead the front group, pulling with him a strong group bolstered by a couple of University racing snakes.
I dropped into the smaller, second group, ostensibly and titularly led by OGL, but in reality following the Red Max. We were joined by a handful of Grogs, a few irregulars, Sneaky Pete, Captain Black, Szell and the Garrulous Kid. The Big Yin looked at the composition of our group, shook his head and quickly set off in pursuit of the first group.
Who can blame him?
Leaving a decent interval, Red Max led the way and we pushed off, clipped in and rode out on yet another fun-filled adventure.
I dropped in alongside Sneaky Pete for a catch-up, but it wasn’t long before our conversation was being rudely interrupted by a persistent clacking, which we finally traced to the back end of his bike. We called a halt so OGL could try and determine what the issue was and after some investigative work he expertly diagnosed the issue as cracked balls – either a euphemism for a particularly nasty testicular fungal infection, or a serious issue with the bearings in his rear hub.
Both potential diagnoses were equally distressing, and leery of suffering a terminal malfunction in the middle of nowhere, Sneaky Pete reluctantly cut short his ride and headed for home.
I next caught up with Captain Black, fresh from a holiday in Majorca where he’d somehow managed to smuggle his bike along. He listened to my complaint of too little cycling while on holiday and raised me a case of too much cycling on holiday, suggesting he was so worn out he wouldn’t even contemplate engaging in the coffee shop sprint. (Hah!)
Our discussion of our much derided club jersey was interrupted by OGL who objected when I complained about its 1970’s styling, by informing me it was actually designed in the 80’s – “but as a tribute to the 70’s,” Captain Black added sotto voce.
I then learned that not only was it designed in the 80’s, but it was the collaborative work of “a committee” – which rather appropriately suggested the old saw about how a camel is just a horse designed by committee. We were then informed that the jersey’s garish colours and hideous, dated design are a positive virtue as nobody wears anything quite like it and it allows you an instant appreciation of where all your teammates are during a race.
OGL’s final argument in defence of his beloved jersey was that many pro teams use a similar design, although considering some of the efforts the likes of Skil-Shimano, Teka, Mapei, Castorama, Phonak, Polti or Tonton Tapis have turned out over the years, I’m not sure that’s exactly an endorsement.
At the top of Brunswick Hill, the Red Max rolled off the front, while, with impeccable timing and a great deal of affected insouciance, the Grog next in line slowly reached for his bottle and took a very long and involved drink, while drifting back down the line. With no one willing to come through and take up the lead, a mentally shrugging Red Max moved back onto the front and stuck his nose into the wind yet again.
On the downhill run I worked my way through the group until I could relieve Max on the front, dropping in beside a relative newcomer who said he’d been out with the club quite a few times, but I didn’t recognise. We set what I felt was a remarkably sensible and sedate pace, only to be castigated for racing. In truth, the ride was so slow and unthreatening, that a weasel was able to stroll across the road in front of us, stop, eye us up speculatively, then hop unconcernedly through a hedge and disappear.
As we pushed through Whalton we were met with a lashing rain shower and a halt was called so we could pull on jackets, before pushing on again. The shower slowly eased and passed, so that by the next stop, at Dyke Neuk, jackets were doffed and stowed once again. Here I caught Szell singing the praises of his Castelli Gabba waterproof and had to inform him it wasn’t as good as The Ramones version, the Gabba Gabba Hey.
I now found myself on the front with Captain Black and we plotted altering the planned route in light of the deteriorating weather, chopping off the leg up to Rothley Crossroads. Re-worked route agreed, we dropped down through Hartburn and began to grind our way across to Middleton Bank.
With the rain slashing down again and bouncing off the tarmac, I pushed on ahead of everyone and stopped at the next junction to fish out my jacket again. As the rest whipped past and away, I found Szell stopping behind me and also reaching for his jacket. I warned him it was a case of bad timing as his bete noire, Middleton Bank was looming and we’d already been left some distance behind.
I started to give chase and Szell, realising his predicament followed, not even delaying long enough to zip his jacket closed. On the run down toward the base of the climb we slowly clawed our way onto the back of the group, but by this point Captain Black and the Red Max were already tackling the steeper ramps up ahead. Still, there were plenty of hares to chase and act as relay points as I set off in pursuit.
Working my way up the outside, I found the Garrulous Kids wheel as we hit the steep section and, as he accelerated, I dropped in behind and followed until the road straightened. As I rode around and past him he started complaining his gears weren’t working, which seems rather unusual given the … ahem … ultra-precise and exacting standards of his German engineered bike.
I’d reeled in the Red Max by the crest of the climb and then set off in pursuit of Captain Black, not even thinking about stopping and regrouping and just wanting to get out of the rain. Between the two of us we then drove the pace along. I never looked back and had no idea who was following, or who was floundering.
Down through Milestone Woods and onto the rollers I tried attacking the slope, but the road was awash and my rear wheel started slipping and spinning without traction. I dropped back down onto the saddle and ground my way over the top and down toward the last climb up to the café.
As I took the last corner Captain Black whirred past (Hah! I say again) and away, shortly followed by Kipper and I was left competing for the minor places with Mini Miss and the Red Max.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
In the café, soaking wet and dripping it was black bin bags all around to keep wet posteriors away from the furniture.
We’d been served and were sitting comfortably by the time the Garrulous Kid rolled in, easy prey to Red Max’s wind-up that he’d not only been beaten in the sprint, but thoroughly thrashed. He bit. Hard. He started leaning on a sorry pile of excuses, stuck gears, malfunctioning brakes, poor visibility, too little pressure in one tyre, too much pressure in the other, before simply vowing revenge next week, when, he warned he would “utterly destroy everyone.”
The Red Max related being asked by the Monkey Butler Boy to take a day off work, theoretically so father and son could do a bit of bonding on a long ride into North Northumberland. Giving up a precious day’s holiday, Red Max had suggested Wooler as a good destination, only to be told, no, they were actually going to Ford. En route, he then learned that they were heading to Ford because that’s where the Monkey Butler Boy’s current squeeze was holidaying en famille.
It then turned out that the Monkey Butler Boy had not only not informed the Red Max about the real purpose of his trip, but he hadn’t bothered to tell his girlfriend either. So, after valiantly battling away for fifty odd miles, up hill, down dale and through the elements, the Monkey Butler Boy’s surprised reception was a somewhat less than welcoming, “What are you doing here?”
As if on cue, the Monkey Butler Boy and his wrecking crew rolled up through the sheeting rain, eventually followed in by their harassed-looking, out of breath, grey-faced and thoroughly exhausted looking coach. The Red Max sympathised with the coach, suggesting riding with the wrecking crew was a quick route to self-annihilation and prompting questions about whether the Monkey Butler Boy is deserving of a more dynamic and sympathetic name change – maybe to The A-nyallator, or similar…
Nah, of course not.
Talk of the Monkey Butler Boy’s girlfriend led the Red Max to an intense interrogation around the Garrulous Kid’s holiday romance with the girl from Hull, with the Garrulous Kid protesting they were “just friends” – even though he had a photo of her on his phone … and even though he had a photo of her dog on his phone too – a Pug called Doug (the dog, not the girl.)
A rather bemused Mini Miss wondered why they were discussing Ugg boots and I had to explain they were actually talking about Pugs and not Uggs – and, one particular Pug called Doug. We agreed they were both equally as ugly (the dog and the sloppy and shapeless footwear, not the girl)
This did lead to some idle speculation that Uggs were actually made out of dead Pugs, which would explain some of their shared characteristics…
The Garrulous Kid protested that he liked Pugs, especially the cute, wheezing, snuffling, distressed little grunting noises they make trying to breathe through their in-bred, facial deformities. I suggested this was the exact same distressed noise he was emitting when I rode past him on Middleton Bank earlier – and I didn’t think it was at all cute. (I never did establish his position on Uggs.)
One of our number started squeezing a long stream of dirty water from his track mitts and directly into his coffee cup. “You don’t have to do that, mate” the Red Max told him, “They’ll give you a free refill if you ask.”
Just then the Monkey Butler Boy wandered up, soaking wet and leaving a long trail of water in his wake. He’d decided to wear his club skinsuit for the ride and so had no way of carrying a rain jacket and was thoroughly drenched. Typical teen, he did of course have his phone clutched firmly in his hand and I wondered where he stored this when riding. Apparently, clenched between his buttocks, according to the Red Max, who also suggested this was why he always used it hands-free as he didn’t want it anywhere near his nose.
Pulling on wet gear again, gloves, arm warmers, helmets, jackets and the like, is always an unpleasant end to the otherwise enjoyable café stop, but it had to be done and once more we ventured out into the teeming rain.
I rode back with the Red Max, finding out that he isn’t away on holiday until a trip to Spain in October. I queried if the weather would be all right then.
“Well, it’ll be better than this,” was the terse reply and I couldn’t argue.
This time around he’s persuaded Mrs. Max to take her bike too and I suggested that with the Monkey Butler Boys new-found prowess, this was at least one way in which Max could ensure he wouldn’t be last in all the sprints.
“Hmm, I’m not so sure about that.” He concluded glumly.
He then suggested tonight would be great conditions for venturing outdoors to watch for Perseid meteor showers and seemed serious in his assertion.
I looked at him quizzically, soaking wet and thoroughly sodden and bedraggled, rain dripping off his nose and running in rivulets down his bike, shoes squelching with every pedal stroke. He seemed sincere, there was no hint of a smile, or the slightest trace of any irony.
I then looked through the gloom at the rain hammering down all around us, the long puddles stretching out from the verges to reach across a road awash with water, and then I looked up at the louring dark, mass of low, unbroken cloud…
Well, you’ve got to admire his optimism.
The Monkey Butler Boy and Garrulous Kid took to racing each other up Berwick Hill, but I was heavy legged and tired out and couldn’t react, so just plugged up behind them. We caught up with OGL who’d left the café ahead of us and, rather bizarrely, he too joined the youngsters for some sparring up the hill to Dinnington.
Before too long everyone else was swing away and I was cast free to plod my way home, being battered by two more heavy, stinging showers, a particular low point amidst the otherwise continual and steadily unrelenting downpour.
I was beginning to feel a bit chilled by the time I reached the bottom of the Heinous Hill, so for once its demands at least had some side benefits and I it wasn’t long before I was home and heading for a very welcome hot shower.
YTD Totals: 4,825 km / 2,777 miles with 55,162 metres of climbing
Total Distance:105 km / 65 miles with 960 metres of climbing
Ride Time:4 hours 1 minute
Average Speed:26.1 km/h
Group size:28 riders, 1 FNG
Weather in a word or two:Warm and bright
I set out first thing Saturday morning still in the dark as to whether climbing in the Alps is a help or hindrance to cycling form. I got an early indication of which way the coin would fall though, when I turned up at the meeting point some 20 minutes early and had to take a long, impromptu peregrination around Fawdon to fill in some time. I’ve nothing personally against Fawdon, but I’m sure even its most ardent resident would agree it’s not the best place in the world to kill some time on a bike.
Main topics of conversation at the meeting point:
In honour of the Tour de France start, Crazy Legs had donned an ancient Ariostea pro-team top, a riot of zig-zagging diagonal lines in bright red and yellow – it’s perhaps offensive enough to even match my bike. I lamented the lack of truly standout, hideous jersey’s in the pro peloton today – although I find Cannondale’s green and red combination a little unsettling, it’s tame compared to the glories of the past such as Ariostea, Mapei and Teka.
In contrast, another rider was wearing a white version of the La Vie Claire jersey, which still remains a timeless classic.
Crazy Legs mentioned it was the Queen Stage for Mini Miss, currently away enjoying sun and smooth roads in Majorca, and (probably) looking forward to Sa Colabra today.
“Psycha-what?” The Prof enquired.
“Sa Colabra,” I explained, “It’s a style of folk dance, popular in the Balearic Islands.”
“No, no, it’s a spirit-based drink, infused with Mediterranean herbs.” The BFG piped up, further confusticating the issue and leaving the Prof suitably bewildered.
The Garrulous Kid wanted to know how probable it was that one of his riding colleagues had seen a raccoon while out on a bike. (Just to be clear, the Garrulous Kid’s riding colleague was out on the bike, not the masked, furry North American mammal.) I suggested what he actually might have seen was a polecat, which are ever so slightly more prevalent than raccoons in rural Northumberland.
“No, pole – cat.”
“P-O-L-E-C … oh, I give up.”
Crazy Legs wanted to know if the Garrulous Kid remembered the time he’s been afraid of his own tyres. Meanwhile, testing his brakes, the Prof found that, despite all the benefits afforded from its hand-built construction in the most advanced bike factory in the world, by the planet’s greatest race of precision engineers and bike designers, the Kid’s Focus had a loose headset.
“Bring that bike here, boy” he demanded in a voice that brooked no argument, “And fetch me an Allen key.”
“Ooh, I’ve got one of those!” the Garrulous Kid squealed, digging frantically through his saddle bag, scattering tubes, tyre levers and repair patches everywhere, but singularly failing to turn up his famed Allen key. This was a shame as I was particularly interested to see which one size he had decided to carry from all the myriad choices available.
The Prof whipped out his own multi-tool, slackened off the stem, gave the cap bolt half a dozen full turns and then tightened the stem back up again.
“That was really loose.” The Colossus of Roads observed as he gazed down benevolently from on high (well, the top of the wall where he’d perched his butt) and noted the spacers spinning as freely as a roulette wheel.
“Was it dangerous?” the Garrulous Kid wondered.
“No, but you probably felt your whole bike shudder when you were braking.” The Colossus replied.
“And now you’ll know exactly what to do when it happens again.” The Prof observed at his pedagogic best.
“Yep,” The Garrulous Kid replied dutifully, “Take it straight back to the bike shop.”
The Prof outlined the planned route for the day and had us split into two, with an ultimate destination of Bellingham for the long distance randonneurs, but with plenty of options for groups to step off at various points to tailor the ride to their preference.
I dropped into the second group and we waited a couple of minutes for the first bunch to clear, before we pushed off, clipped in and rode out.
With a build-up of cars trailing us into Ponteland, we singled out to encourage them pass, but no matter how much frantic waving Crazy Legs engaged in, the driver of the first car refused to overtake – perhaps blinded, mesmerised or simply intimidated by the aggressive and unsettling design of his Ariostea jersey.
I spent some time behind the Colossus and got my first good look at his custom-painted cassette spacers, in the same colours and sequence as the World Champion Rainbow bands. He too had made the pilgrimage to the local model shop to baffle them with enquiries about what paints worked best on Shimano cassette’s.
He told me everything had worked perfectly, except for the bright fluorescent green, which initially looked black when applied, so he’d had to switch to a white undercoat. (I include this information simply as a public service, in case you’re ever tempted to paint your own cassette spacers.)
At the first stop, I noticed slightly different micturition practices, as one of the group pulled up a shorts leg to pee – while I always pull down the waistband. Perhaps this could be a bone of contention and spark a Lilliputian vs. Blefuscan conflict of Brobdignagian proportions. Or, maybe not.
It was during this stop that Crazy Legs overheard a conversation in which one of our esteemed members claimed to have been informed he was a peerless descender by no lesser authority than “world champion (sic) Alberto Contador.”
Options were outlined and decision were made on different route choices, with the first splinter group happily turning to head up the Quarry, while the rest of us went tearing down the Ryals.
I tucked in, freewheeling all the way and quickly picked up speed, hitting the front until the Red Max and the Plank, swept past pedalling furiously. As soon as they eased I closed them down again, all the while pulling Crazy Legs along behind me as he surfed in my slipstream.
At the bottom and while everyone flashed past and on to loop around Hallington Reservoir, I turned right and pulled over to wait for Sneaky Pete, having previously agreed to take the shorter, but much hillier option up past Hallington Hall, Sol Campbells stately pile. This narrow, partly shady, tree-lined route, climbs and twists through a series of relatively sharp ramps and is one of my favourite roads, if only because we don’t use it all that often.
I was climbing well and felt good as we crested the hill and started to drop back down to the junction with the main road. This spat us out directly in front of a bunch of cyclists that I thought were the group we’d just left, but actually turned out to be our first group. As we closed on the testing drag, up Humiliation Hill, beZ and Andeven whirred past, followed a split second later by Shoeless and the rider in the old La Vie Clair jersey and I dropped in behind them.
beZ and Andeven started to pull away on the climb, so I threaded the needle between Shoeless and La Vie Claire (or perhaps from their perspective, simply barged them out of the way) and gave chase. Tagging onto the back of the front two, I camped there comfortably as they swept uphill, quickly pulling away from everyone else, before we swung east and powered toward Capheaton.
At the last, steep clamber up to road that leads to the Snake Bends, I floated up beside beZ and we rolled the rest of the way, chatting about his experiences of mixing it with the big boys during the Beaumont Trophy and where he needs to improve his bike handling skills and confidence, seemingly the only thing limiting his brilliant performances from being bloody brilliant performances.
Main topics of conversation at the coffee stop:
At the café, I joined Captain Black and Princess Fiona at one of the tables outside. She’d just returned from a cycling-motorbiking trip to the Pyrenees. First reassuring myself that she hadn’t been on a Harley, I was interested to know what it was like as Crazy Legs is eyeing up this area for our next foreign expedition.
Talk of the Pyrenees and the Tour, had me extolling the Cycling Anthology series of books and in particular Volume 5 which includes a chapter on Superbagnères by Edward Pickering. This described Stage 15 of the 1971 Tour de France, which was a balls-to-the-wall, short stage of just 19.6km straight up from Bagnères-de-Luchon to the summit. The author described the action as being like a mass start time-trial, with every man for himself. The stage was won by Jose Manuel-Fuente, but all 99 riders in the field were separated by just 10 minutes and the biggest group across line was only 4 strong.
Apart from reminding me of Fuente, a rider whose name I was particularly fond of chanting to encourage struggling riders up hills when I was a kid … Foo-entay! … Foo-entay! … I thought the idea of a super-short, chaotic and uncontrollable stage, straight up a mountain was well worth revisiting – a real mano a mano contest among the climbers and GC riders, stripping away all the team support and tactical “footsie” that usually takes place before a decisive summit finish.
Recognising the stage would be perhaps too short to make good TV, it could then be combined with the sort of downhill time-trial Sean Kelly seems to advocate. I’d watch anyway.
With the first cup of coffee consumed, Princess Fiona somehow manouvered Captain Black into attending to her refill needs, before presenting him with her dainty, little cup.
Captain Black looked quizzically at it:
“It’s because she’s a lay-dee.” I explained.
Captain Black listened carefully to the very precise specification required for Princess Fiona’s coffee refill, tugged his forelock, bowed and backed away from the table.
He then wandered into the café, determined to get it wrong so he’d never be asked again.
Princess Fiona and Captain Black decided to take the long route back via Stamfordham and started to gather their things together to leave.
“Is there anything you need him to carry for you?” I joked, but could see Princess Fiona giving the question very serious consideration, before she demurred.
As they left, I moved across to the next table, where the Colossus was handing out free advice on how to go about painting cassette spacers. Given the fact he’d bought 3 different paint colours (green, red and blue) to go with G-Dawg’s yellow to recreate the World Champion bands and used only a tiny amount of each, there was talk of establishing a set of “club paints” that could be handed to those most in need. It was decided however that these would probably go the way of the semi-mythical “club rollers” that we know exist, we just don’t know where they are and who has them.
Appreciation of the La Vie Clare jersey brought a slightly too enthusiastic, near orgasmic, “Oh, yes,” from Taffy Steve, in a voice that was an unfortunate cross between the Churchill dog, a Kenneth Williams, “ooh matron” and a Terry Thomas-style, “ring-a-ding-ding.” Not that we drew any attention to it, of course.
Talk turned to upcoming movie releases, with the majority expressing their boredom with super-hero movies, for which the best antidote was deemed to be Lego Batman.
The Garrulous Kid though wasn’t done with super-heroes.
“I’m really looking forward to Four. Will you go and see that?” he asked me.
“Well, no, I haven’t seen One, Two or Three, so there doesn’t seem much point.” I replied, struggling to keep a straight face.
“No, I mean Four:Free.”
“Huh?” I feigned incomprehension.
“You know, the one with Four, the Norse God of Funder…”
As we were leaving the Garrulous Kid announced that now he’s finished school for the summer he was free to ride at any time. He asked if there were any mid-week groups he could join up with.
“Don’t you regularly go out on a Wednesday?” I innocently asked Sneaky Pete, earning a very sneaky kick in the shin for my efforts as he shushed me. Ouch!
We set off for home and I found myself climbing Berwick Hill with Crazy Legs.
“How you doing?” he asked and I had to admit I was floating and feeling good. Bet that’s not going to last.
As I turned off for home and left the others behind, Princess Fiona sailed past in the opposite direction having completed the longer route back through Stamfordham. Then, the obligatory 5 paces behind, Captain Black followed, undoubtedly slowed-down by all the baggage he was carrying for her.
Dropping down toward the river I had one last challenge as a racing trap sped past at a full speed gallop on the road below. I swung through the junction onto the road behind and gave chase. At about 25 mph I think I was beginning to close it down, but the driver was already easing the horse back to a trot. Those things are fast.
Across the river I found myself in the middle of a massive traffic jam and took to a bit of pavement surfing and threading between the cars, which earned me at least one “dick-head” comment from a very frustrated driver. A small price to pay to avoid being stuck for half an hour or more, sucking up exhaust fumes and going nowhere fast.
After that it was a relief to break out onto quieter roads, even if they did lead straight up the Heinous Hill to home.
YTD Totals: 4,140 km / 2,572 miles with 48,613 metres of climbing